The Promise Fulfilled
Editor's Note: Apologist Jacob Michael presents a succinct Catholic Apologetic based on the Holy Scriptures. He has chosen to call his column Quid Dicit Scriptura? - What Saith the Scriptures? He utilizes the approved and superior Douay-Rheims Roman Catholic version in his apologia and holds to the Council of Trent's decree to "accept Sacred Scripture according to the meaning which has been held by Holy Mother Church and which She now holds. It is Her prerogative to pass judgment on the true meaning and interpretation of Sacrd Scripture and will not accept or interpret it in a manner different from the unanimous agreement of the Fathers." Jacob continues with the fourth installment of a multi-part treatise on the meaning of the Gospel as the title indicates - "The Gospel is the Kingdom."
Some passages below are highlighted in blue bold for emphasis.
"But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the law..." (Gal. 4:4)
I find it quite fitting that we should come to this point in our examination of the Gospel of the Kingdom at this particular moment of the Liturgical Year. As we now enter into the season of Advent and prepare to celebrate the birth of our King, the promised Messiah Jesus Christ, perhaps this study (and especially our previous studies on the prophets) will help us to truly appreciate the "reason for the season."
As we enter the New Testament, we find that the language of the kingdom is not in any way abandoned. The gospels continually make reference to this kingdom, and to Jesus' underlying preoccupation with the restoration of the divided tribes. The book of Acts shows how the restored Davidic Kingdom was central to the Apostles' teaching, describing their concern for and labors to bring about the reunion of the north and south.
We have already seen how St. Matthew's gospel wastes no time in declaring the pedigree of Jesus of Nazareth, "the son of David." Within the first three chapters, we are presented with John the Baptist, preparing the way for Jesus' ministry. What is John's summary message of preparation?
Do penance: for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. (Matt. 3:2)
Is it not very telling that this man, this sort of "prelude" to the gospel of Jesus Christ, felt it necessary to prepare the people for the coming of a "kingdom?" Is it not also significant that when Jesus takes over and begins His ministry, He speaks the exact same words? (Matt. 4:17)
But is this not a different sort of kingdom, and not to be confused with the Davidic Kingdom? It is true that John the Baptist calls it the "kingdom of Heaven," but does this mean it is a kingdom separate from David's Kingdom? Absolutely not! We have already seen and established that the prophesied Messiah would restore David's fallen dynasty, and we certainly have no doubt that Jesus is that promised Messiah. So the question would be, if this "kingdom of Heaven" is not in some way intimately related to the Davidic Kingdom, then in what capacity did Jesus fulfill the prophesied restoration of David's dynasty? What shape did this restored Davidic Kingdom take?
The importance of this question cannot be overlooked, for it precisely on this point that the Jews who reject Jesus as the Messiah base their claim: He couldn't have been the real Messiah, for after all, He didn't restore David's Kingdom as the prophets promised, did He? Or did He?
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom: and healing all manner of sickness and every infirmity, among the people. (Matt. 4:23)
And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity. (Matt. 9:35)
The word "gospel", euangelion in the Greek (from which we get the English, "evangel," "evangelize," "evangelical," etc.), simply means "good tidings," or "good news." Thus, St. Matthew is saying that Jesus, quite literally, preached the "good news of the kingdom." The gospel, says St. Matthew, is the kingdom. It is the good news about the coming kingdom, the restored kingdom of David.
The centrality of the kingdom can be seen especially in the momentous occasion of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus delivers, as it were, the New Law of the New Covenant (the true Law for Adam that David prophesied):
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven... Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. (Matt. 5:3, 10)
He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men shall be called the least in the kingdom of Heaven. But he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of Heaven. For I tell you, that unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven. (Matt. 5:19-20)
Thus therefore shall you pray: Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven... (Matt. 6:9-10)
Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matt. 6:33)
Not every one that saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven: but he that doth the will of My Father Who is in Heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven. (Matt. 7:21)
As we proceed into St. Mark's gospel, we find that he, too, links the gospel and the kingdom very closely together:
And after that John was delivered up, Jesus came in Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying: The time is accomplished and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel. (Mark 1:14-15)
When we come to St. Luke's gospel, there is a remarkable similarity to St. Matthew's gospel, in that St. Luke seeks to establish Jesus' biological relationship to David almost immediately:
Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son: and thou shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His father: and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of His kingdom there shall be no end.
St. Luke goes even a bit further than St. Matthew did in his opening chapter. Where St. Matthew was content to provide proof of Jesus' genealogical descent from David, St. Luke explicitly records that Jesus will inherit "the throne of David His father." Thus the question that we asked earlier - is the kingdom of Heaven the same thing as the restored Davidic Kingdom - must be answered in the affirmative.
Jesus is a king, no one disputes that. But the throne that He occupies is at once a Heavenly throne and the Davidic throne (the fact that He physically occupies the earthly throne of our Holy Tabernacles is for another discussion). Keeping in mind God's covenant with David, St. Luke records, "of His kingdom there shall be no end."
This same St. Luke would go on to emphasize the kingdom as the center of the Early Church's mission when he penned the Acts of the Apostles, which we will see in the next installment. With this central theme in mind, it is no surprise to find St. Luke using the same terminology that St. Matthew employed:
And when it was day, going out He went into a desert place: and the multitudes sought Him, and came unto Him. And they stayed Him that should not depart from them. To whom He said: To other cities also I must preach the kingdom of God: for therefore am I sent.
And it came to pass afterwards He travelled through the cities and towns, preaching and evangelizing the kingdom of God: and the twelve with Him (Luke 8:1)
Note again the use of the phrase "preaching the kingdom of God." In both of these passages, incidently, the word that is translated "preach" or "evangelizing" is the same word used by St. Matthew (in verb form, in this case) when he speaks of the "gospel of the kingdom": euangelidzo, euangelion, or "gospel."
Thus, both Ss. Matthew and Luke indicate that the gospel, the good news, is the restored Davidic kingdom.
St. Luke writes also of the royal role that the Apostles themselves would play in this newly restored kingdom:
And I dispose to you, as My Father hath disposed to Me, a kingdom; That you may eat and drink at My table, in my kingdom: and may sit upon thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:29-30)
This is an important facet of the gospel of the kingdom, especially for a defense of the Catholic form of Church government, for what this verse says, in essence, is that the Apostles are royal princes in the Davidic Kingdom. This is why they sit on "thrones" in Jesus' "kingdom," and act as "judges."
Thus the Catholic Church has referred to the Sacred College of Cardinals as "the princes of the Church" for centuries. This verse, coupled with the hierarchical nature of the Davidic Kingdom which is the essence of the New Kingdom, shows the soundly monarchical structure of the Church. The head of the Church is the King, and His royal delegates are princes and ministers with royal authority.
Jesus answered: My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now my kingdom is not from hence. Pilate therefore said to Him: Art thou a king then? Jesus answered: Thou sayest that I am a king. (John 18:36-37)
In this narrative of St. John, Jesus is standing trial before Pontius Pilate. This verse, so tragically misunderstood by Protestants, affirms the Kingship of Christ in this world, rather than denying it.
Jesus states that His kingdom is not of, that is, from, this world, but this is a far cry from saying that Jesus' kingdom is not in this world. Indeed, it must be in this world (even if only partially), since Jesus affirms that the "servants" of His kingdom could, if need be, fight for the Kingdom - i.e., His citizens and subjects are in this world, and also in His kingdom. Therefore, His kingdom is also in this world.
When Pilate asks Jesus if He is a king, Jesus responds with the idiomatic "Thou sayest," i.e., "You have said correctly." (c.f., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
Even Protestants admit that Our Lord here is affirming, not denying, His Kingship:
"Jesus answered, thou sayest that I am a king; and which was very rightly said; and Christ by these words owns and confesses, that He was one..." (John Gill's Exposition of the Bible)
"Christ, in His next reply, gives a more full and direct answer to Pilate’s former question, Art thou a king? explaining in what sense He was a king, but not such a king as was any ways dangerous to the Roman government..." (Matthew Henry's Commentary)
"Thou sayest - The truth." (John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible)
Thus Jesus affirms that He is a King, but He denies that His kingdom derives its power from this world. Rather, His kingdom derives its power from the top-down, i.e., from God, not from the bottom-up, i.e., from a democracy or grass-roots revolution (much like many false Zealot Messiah's of that same era).
This is the paradox of the restored kingdom. It is, undoubtedly, the Davidic Kingdom restored, else Jesus did not fulfill all the Messianic prophecies - and the Jews would have some solid grounds for their rejection of Him. Thus, as the restored kingdom of David, it is, of necessity, on this earth.
Yet, Jesus never refers to it as the "Davidic Kingdom," per se, choosing instead the term "the kingdom of God." He also says that it derives its power from Heaven, and that we ought to pray "Thy kingdom come... on earth, as it is in Heaven." Thus, the kingdom of God is Heavenly. How can it be both earthly and Heavenly at the same time?
The kingdom is only perfected in Heaven. The imperfect - yet real - manifestation of this Heavenly Davidic Kingdom on earth is the Church, the Bride of the King (this is why Jesus describes Heaven in a parable as a Heavenly wedding banquet thrown by the King - see Matt. 22:1-14).
In the next installment we will conclude this series by looking at how this restored Davidic Kingdom functioned and revealed itself in the early Church, and we will try to connect the dots to show that the restored Davidic Kingdom is the Church on earth.
Note: In preparing articles for The Daily Catholic on the topics of Holy Scripture and the Catholic Faith, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the number of possibilities and topics to be covered. I could take a topical approach, an issues-based approach, or maybe just work my way through a particular book of Sacred Scripture in a "bible study" fashion. However, I do not write for my own pleasure, but rather, I write to meet whatever needs my audience has. That being said, you can help me narrow down my field of topics and better service you, the reading audience, by suggesting and recommending various topics or biblical books for discussion.
Along these same lines, I would like to "segue" from one series to another by fielding questions and dedicating a column to a more Q&A format. As we come to the end of this series on the Gospel of the Kingdom, feel free to submit your questions about the biblical basis for our Holy Faith.
The Gospel in Action
If you want to ask Jacob a question, you can e-mail him at email@example.com and we encourage you to visit his site A Lumen Gentleman - Lumen Gentleman Apologetics.