Like Jesus, the rabbis made frequent reference to "the Kingdom of Heaven." A familiarity with the way "Kingdom of Heaven" is used in rabbinic literature is essential for understanding its use in the Gospels.
A Hebrew benediction which appears quite frequently in rabbinic literature can help us grasp Jesus’ understanding of the Kingdom. In his confession on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest spoke the sacred name of God. When he pronounced that name, the people fell on their faces and cried, “His honorable name is blessed and his Kingdom is for ever and ever” (m. Yoma 6:2). God reigns when his people recognize his kingship.
A passage from the Mishnah links the Kingdom of Heaven to ancient Israel’s affirmation, “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD” (Deut. 6:4). This prayer is known as the Shema (“Hear”), and occupies a central place in the liturgy of the synagogue.
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Brad H. Young is the founder and president of the Gospel Research Foundation, Tulsa, Oklahoma. A founding member of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research, he is professor of New Testament Studies in the Graduate School of Theology at Oral Roberts University. Young earned M.A. and Ph.D.… [Read more about author]