The Kingdom of God in Matthew (Pennington)

I was following on the reference to Jonathan Pennington (of Greek & Hebrew audio vocab fame) that Schreiner mentions in his CT interview, post, which led me to I came across this great interview of Pennington by Justin Taylor:

. . . Matthew’s “kingdom of heaven” is an important part of his four-fold use of the heaven and earth theme. “Kingdom of heaven” does not stand alone in Matthew, but relates closely to his unique emphasis on the “Father in heaven,” the repeated use of “heaven and earth” pairs, and a subtle distinction he makes between singular and plural forms of the Greek word for heaven. “Heaven’ is indeed a gloss for “God” in Matthew, but not out ofreverential circumlocution, but as part of his elaborate and beautiful heaven and earth theme. Or to put it another way, “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” denote the same thing but connote differently. . .

. . . I would define the kingdom of heaven as God’s coming kingdom in Christ, the great eschatological hope of the NT, and the central theme of the biblical message from Creation to New Creation. The power of Matthew calling it the “kingdom of heaven” as part of his heaven and earth theme is that it puts great emphasis on the contrast between God’s way of doing and ordering and bringing about kingdom (as seen in heaven) compared to humanity’s views and expectations and vision of kingdom or rule (as seen on earth). Matthew picks up on the rich biblical language of heaven and earth (from Gen 1:1 on) and uses it in a contrastive way – to highlight the current tension that exists between God’s reign in heaven and humanity’s reign on earth. This radical contrast is shown through the counter-intuitive nature of Jesus’ teachings (such as the Beatitudes, etc.) and the ways in which he pictures the kingdom of heaven in parables (see the upside-down nature of the teachings in Matt 13 and especially 20:1-16), culminating of course in the ultimate act – the king who rides into town on an ass and then willingly gets beaten, spat on, and crucified. We live now in the time of tension between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of earth. And notice, then, that at the core of the Lord’s Prayer (which is the precise center of the entire Sermon on the Mount), we are taught this fundamental posture – “Thy will be done; thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” This is supposed to be our vision and direction and hope. This is beautiful and powerful truth! There’s much more I could say, but I must stop!

What, in your view, is the relationship between the kingdom of God/heaven and the gospel?

This is a good question and one I am constantly asking myself. I would say that the gospel is the message about God’s coming kingdom in Christ. This is undeniable from even the most naïve reading of the Gospels – Jesus was preaching the kingdom. (As an important aside, notice the fascinating Matthean expression, “the gospel of the kingdom” which he uses at three crucial places in the narrative.) This is not to deny or denigrate the importance of justification by faith on the basis of the Cross; this is the means by which any can enter into a king-subject relationship with Christ. But I am consciously understanding the NT’s message as first and foremost kingdom-eschatological centered . . .

Read the whole interview.

Pennington’s book, Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew (Supplements to Novum Testamentum) is only $185 retail ($135 Amazon).

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