61. The reign of God, a theme well attested in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalter, becomes a major theme in the Synoptic Gospels, because it serves as the basis of Jesus’ prophetic preaching, his messianic mission, his death and resurrection. Certainly at the time of Jesus, the Old Testament concept of a “reign of God” that was imminent, terrestrial, political, and centred on “Israel” and in “Jerusalem”, was still strongly entrenched (Lk ), even among the disciples (Mt ; Ac 1:6). But the New Testament as a whole brings about a radical change, which was already evident in intertestamental Judaism where the idea of a heavenly, eternal kingdom makes its appearance (Jubilees XV:32; XVI:18).
Matthew most frequently speaks of “the kingdom of the heavens” (33 times), a semitism which avoids pronouncing the name of God. It devolves on Jesus to “preach the good news of the kingdom” through teaching, healing of illnesses 276 and the expulsion of demons (). The teaching of Jesus on the “righteousness” necessary for entry into the kingdom (5:20) proposes a very high religious and moral ideal (5:21-7:27). Jesus announces that the reign of God is near at hand (4:17), which inserts an eschatological tension into the present time. From now on the reign belongs to those who are “poor in spirit” (5:3) and to those who are “persecuted for the sake of righteousness” (5:10). Several parables present the reign of God as present and operative in the world, as a seed that grows (-32), as a leaven active in the dough (). For his role in the Church, Peter will receive “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (). Other parables concentrate on eschatological judgement. 277 The kingdom of God becomes a reality now through the reign of the Son of Man. 278 A comparison between Mt 18:9 and Mk 9:47 shows that the kingdom of God points to the access to the true “life”, in other words, the access to the communion that God accomplishes for his people, in justice and holiness through Jesus Christ.
e teaching as Matthew, each with his own nuances. Elsewhere in the New Testament the theme is less prominent, though frequent enough. 279 Without using the expression “kingdom of God”, 280 the Book of Revelation describes the great battle against the forces of evil that produces the establishment of this reign.
62. In some biblical texts, the hope of a better world is mediated through a human agent. An ideal king is awaited, who will liberate from oppression and establish perfect justice (Ps 72). This waiting takes shape, beginning with the message of the prophet Nathan who promised king David that one of his sons would succeed him and that his kingdom would last forever (2 S 7:11-16). The obvious sense of this oracle is not messianic; it did not promise David a privileged successor who would inaugurate the definitive reign of God in a renewed world, but simply an immediate successor who, in turn, would be succeeded by others. Each of David’s successors was an “anointed” of the Lord, in Hebrew (m
siach), for kings were consecrated by the pouring of oil, but none of them was the Messiah. Other prophecies, following Nathan’s, in the crises of the succeeding centuries, promised that the dynasty would certainly endure as part of God’s fidelity to his people (Is 7:14), but they tended more and more to paint a portrait of an ideal king who would inaugurate the reign of God. 281 Even the failure of the political expectations to materialise only served to deepen that hope.