The sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) is the most comprehensive and well-known teaching about how we should follow Jesus. In it Jesus addresses topics as diverse as anger, lust, divorce, retaliation, prayer, fasting, forgiveness, and handling anxiety. Jesus clearly meant for his disciples to immediately put into practice the instruction he gave them in this sermon. All of this is non-controversial and generally well-known, which leads me to my question. Why does Jesus feel compelled to mention the kingdom eight times in a sermon that has nothing to do with the future? Before moving on, here are the texts:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Mattehw 6.10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Beyond these explicit 8 usages of God’s coming “kingdom,” we find these 2 additional references to the age to come:
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
13 Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Altogether we find 10 references to the kingdom in Jesus’ teaching on ethics. This wouldn’t surprise me if I were examining, say, Jesus’ Olivet Discourse in which he details the events at the end of the age, but to find so much kingdom focus on a sermon on daily living really grabs my attention.
The simple fact is that Jesus cannot separate his present from his future or his ethics from his hope. He sees them together. Because of the coming kingdom we need to live this way now. We should feel the pull of the future in the present such that we already begin conforming our lives to a new standard, beyond what Moses had commanded. We seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness in the present. As we do this we testify to the coming age when God makes everything wrong with the world right.