We looked at the references to kingdom in Mark; we now turn to the passages found in both Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. Many Gospel scholars call these passages in Matthew and Luke (but not in Mark) “Q” — a letter beginning the German word “Quelle” meaning “Source.” That is, the Source both Matthew and Luke used in addition to using Mark. Whether you agree or not doesn’t concern me — the first passage is another one of those that are not “Jesus’ kingdom” but we should pause briefly with it.
In Matthew 4:8 (par. Luke 4:5) we read: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 ?All this I will give you,? he said, ?if you will bow down and worship me.? Here we have kingdom meaning the reign of a king, over a kingdom of subjects where his/her will rules and where there are boundaries to the land — expanding or shrinking as they might be. It is my belief that we make a momentous mistake if we don’t factor in this simple sense of kingdom into all our discussion of what Jesus means by kingdom of God.
Now to Q:
Matthew 5:3 (par Luke 6:20): “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Luke is different, and his difference is more than a meaningless distinction: Blessed are the poor.” Full stop.
1. Jesus promises kingdom of God to those who are poor — now — those who are poor in spirit — now. Every good Gospel teacher will tell you that Jesus probably used the Hebrew word (or Aramaic equivalent) “Anawim” — meaning the pious poor who, like Simeon and Anna and Mary, his mother, were socially destitute and who waited for the Messiah to come to liberate them, restore Israel to its proper place, end poverty, end oppression, and establish God’s will and kingdom. Jesus jumps into that Israelite expectation and says, “I agree.”
2. The kingdom here is probably future — at least it is future to the poverty of the poor right now.
3. But, many say the present tense of “is” — in “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” — indicates they’ve got the kingdom now as they follow Jesus and enjoy the community of Jesus that cares for the poor. I don’t know that one can decide from the evidence in the Beatitudes which of these is the right one with certainty, but the focus of the rest of the beatitudes is futurity. I’m inclined to think this is promise, but even if that is accurate, the point is not “hold off, hang on, for good days are coming” but “it’s now being set in motion.”
4. Which means this … very important … the future kingdom where God’s society will be established in love, peace, and justice, is now making its way into the present in those who follow Jesus. No one can promise a future kingdom to the poor who doesn’t work for those poor in the here and now to instantiate that kingdom now.
5. A theme here and elsewhere: for Jesus kingdom reverses everything observable now in this world. Hope, then, rules among those who follow Jesus. Hope for a future of God’s kingdom. A hope that simultaneously motivates behaviors and vision now.