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I Confer a Kingdom on You

General Audience — November 4, 1987

—    Structure of the kingdom of God

Let us run through again the themes of the reflections on Jesus the Son of Man, which at the same time reveal him as the true Son of God. "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30). We have seen that he referred to himself the divine name and attributes; he spoke of his divine pre-existence in union with the Father (and with the Holy Spirit, as we shall explain in a further series of reflections); he claimed for himself power over the law which Israel had received from God through Moses in the old covenant. (That claim was made especially in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5); and together with this power, he claimed also the power to forgive sins (cf. Mk 2:1-12 and parallel passages; Lk 7:48; Jn 8:11), and to pronounce the final judgment on the consciences and works of all humanity (cf. Mt 25:31-46; Jn 5:27-29). Finally, he taught as one having authority and he called for faith in his word; he invited people to follow him even unto death, and promised eternal life as a reward. At this point we have at our disposal all the elements and all the reasons for affirming that Jesus Christ has revealed himself as the one who establishes God's kingdom in the history of humanity.

The revelation of God's kingdom had already been prepared in the Old Testament. It happened particularly in the second phase of the history of Israel as narrated in the words of the prophets and the psalms, following the exile and the other painful experiences of the Chosen People. We recall especially the songs of the Psalmists to God who is king of all the earth, who "reigns over the peoples" (Ps 47: 8-9); and the exultant recognition, "Your kingdom is a kingdom for all ages, and your dominion endures through all generations" (Ps 145:13). In his turn the prophet Daniel speaks of the kingdom of God "which shall never be destroyed...rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms, and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever." This kingdom which the "God of heaven" will set up (i.e., the kingdom of heaven), will remain under the dominion of God himself and "shall never be delivered to another people" (cf. Dan 2:44).

1.  Structure of the kingdom of God

Entering into this tradition and sharing this concept of the old covenant, Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed this kingdom from the beginning of his Messianic mission. "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mk 1:15). In this way he took up one of the constant motifs of Israel's expectation, but he gave a new direction to the eschatological hope which took shape in the final phase of the Old Testament. He did so by proclaiming that it had its initial fulfillment already here on earth, since God is the Lord of history. Certainly, his kingdom is projected toward a final fulfillment beyond time, but it begins to be realized already here on earth and in a certain sense it develops within history. In this perspective Jesus announced and revealed that the time of the ancient promises, expectations and hopes "is fulfilled," and that the kingdom of God "is at hand"—it is already present in his own Person.

Jesus Christ, indeed, not only taught about the kingdom of God, making it the central point of his teaching, but he established this kingdom in the history of Israel and of all humanity. This reveals his divine power, his sovereignty in regard to all in time and space that bears the signs of the primordial creation and of the call to be "new creatures" (cf. 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). Through Christ and in Christ all that is transient and ephemeral has been conquered, and he has established for ever the true value of the human person and of everything created.

It is a unique and eternal power which Jesus Christ—crucified and risen—claimed for himself at the end of his earthly mission when he said to the apostles, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me." By virtue of this power of his he ordered them, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Mt 28:18-20).

Before reaching this definitive act in the proclamation and revelation of the divine sovereignty of the Son of Man, Jesus frequently announced that the kingdom of God has come into the world. Indeed, in the conflict with his adversaries who did not hesitate to ascribe Jesus' works to a demonic power, he refuted them with an argument that ends with the statement, "If it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Lk 11:20). Therefore in him and through him the spiritual space of the divine dominion gains substance. The kingdom of God enters into the history of Israel and of all humanity. Jesus is in a position to reveal it and to show that he has the power to decide its realization. He shows it by freeing from demons—the whole psychological and spiritual space is reconquered for God.

Moreover, the definitive mandate given to the apostles by Christ crucified and risen (cf. Mt 28:18-20), was prepared by him under every aspect. The key moment of the preparation was the calling of the apostles. "He appointed twelve that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons" (Mk 3:14-15). Among the Twelve, Simon Peter received a special power in regard to the kingdom. "And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt 16:18-19). He who spoke in this way showed that he was convinced to possess the kingdom, to hold its supreme sovereignty, and to be able to entrust the keys to his representative and vicar. He did this just as, and to a still greater degree than, an earthly king would do in the case of his lieutenant or prime minister.

This evident conviction of Jesus explains why, during his ministry, he spoke of his present and future work as of a new kingdom introduced into human history, not only as a truth announced but as a living reality. It develops, grows and ferments the entire human batch of dough, as we read in the parable of the leaven (cf. Mt 13:33; Lk 13:21). This and the other parables of the kingdom (cf. especially Mt 13), attest that this is the central idea of Jesus, and also the substance of his messianic work which he willed to be prolonged in history, even after his return to the Father, and this by means of a visible structure whose head is Peter (cf. Mt 16:18-19).

The establishment of this structure of the kingdom of God coincides with its transmission by Christ to his chosen apostles, "I confer (Latin, dispono; translated by some as "I convey") a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me" (Lk 22:29). The transmission of the kingdom is at the same time a mission: "As you sent me into the world, so I send them into the world" (Jn 17:18). Appearing to the apostles after the resurrection, Jesus will again say, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you.... Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (Jn 2:21-23).

We should note well that in Jesus' mind, in his messianic work and in his mandate to the apostles, the inauguration of the kingdom in this world is closely connected with his power to conquer sin, to cancel Satan's power in the world and in every human being. It is therefore linked to the paschal mystery, to the cross and resurrection of Christ (Agnus Dei qui tollit peccata mundi...), and as such it is built into the historical mission of the apostles and of their successors. The establishment of the kingdom of God has its foundation in the reconciliation of humanity with God, carried out in Christ and through Christ in the paschal mystery (cf. 2 Cor 5:19; Eph 2:13-18; Col 1:19-20).

The purpose of the vocation and mission of the apostles—and therefore of the Church—in the world is to establish God's kingdom in human history (cf. Mk 16:15; Mt 28:19-20). Jesus was well aware that this mission, like his own messianic mission, would encounter and provoke great opposition. From the days when he sent forth the apostles in the first experiments of collaborating with himself, he warned them, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Mt 10:16).

Matthew's Gospel also condenses what Jesus would say later about the fate of his missionaries (Mt 10:17-25). He returned to this theme in one of his last polemical discourses with the "scribes and Pharisees," by confirming, "Behold, I send to you prophets and wisemen and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and pursue from town to town... (Mt 23:34). It was a fate which had already befallen the prophets and other personages of the old covenant to whom the text refers (cf. Mt 23:35). But Jesus gave his followers the assurance that his work and theirs would endure—the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

Despite the opposition and contradiction it would meet with throughout the course of history, the kingdom of God would be established once for all in the world by the power of God himself through the Gospel and the paschal mystery of the Son. It would always bear not only the signs of his passion and death, but also the seal of his divine power, radiant in the resurrection. History would demonstrate it. But the certainty of the apostles and of all believers is founded on the revelation of the divine power of Christ, historical, eschatological and eternal, about whom the Second Vatican Council taught, "Christ, becoming obedient even unto death and because of this exalted by the Father (cf. Phil 2:8-9), entered into the glory of his kingdom. To him all things are made subject until he subjects himself and all created things to the Father that God may be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:27-28)" (LG 36).