saying-3; the kingdom metaphor.



if you want to experience what he meant

saying- 3; the kingdom metaphor.



(latest update: 07-12-2018)




saying-3: the kingdom metaphor.



Jesus says,

If those who lead you say, 'See, the kingdom is in the sky,'

then the birds of the sky will precede you.

If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you.

Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you.


When you come to know yourselves (understand yourselves),

then you will become known (be understood),

and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father.

But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty

and it is you who are that poverty.


There is also a Pap. Oxyrh. version.






This saying does not belong to DeConick's kernel sayings (the second part being even later

than the first), but including it here allows some reflection on the concept

of the kingdom in Thomas at this stage. The second part is an explanation, about what

the kingdom is/is not, and merely therefore unlikely an authentic Jesus' saying.

The first part, however, is also in Luke 17:20–21, where Jesus says, “The kingdom of God does

not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom

of God is within you” (NKJV). I am not sure whether this ‘double attestation’ might serve as

an argument to consider the first part of the saying as authentic. The second part is most likely a

later, rather gnostic, addition. In any case, Perrin and Duling (1982) consider Luke 17:20-21

as an authentic Jesus saying. Crossan (1998) finds a closest parallel in Deuteronomy 30:11-14,

and is about the Law which is “…..not in heaven,….. nor in the sea,…no, the word is very

near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe”. Jesus might have

intended something similar concerning the nearness of the kingdom – it is just as near as

the OT demanded the Law to be. Whether Jesus meant to oppose the two by such phrasing,

remains for speculation.



The saying starts with an ironic twist towards spiritual teachers and leaders in general, and

whatever explanation they offer, they are mistaken. The kingdom is neither here nor there,

neither above nor below, neither now nor then; and although rather related to “what” and “how”,

it neither is, nor is not. The point here is that what is meant cannot be framed into a dualistic

perception of reality, so one better remains silent about it. The only escape to say something

is by using metaphor.



The term kingdom has traditionally been considered to serve the idea of an

eschatological expectation as it was generally present among the Jewish people in Jesus’ time,

but even more so following the destruction of the Hebrew Temple in 70 CE.

However, also citing others, Mack (2006) states: there was, in fact, no such thing as a

common perception about “the” messiah or “the” kingdom to come. He adds that the term

‘kingdom’ is absent in the canonical or apocalyptic writings, and does not appear in Jewish texts

of that time, with the exception of at least the evangelists . However, Mack

continues that on those occasions the term ‘kingdom’ lacks any eschatological meaning,

and concludes that the meaning of the term in the Jesus traditions is “far from clear”. However,

others would not agree with Mack, such as Perrin (1976) e.g., who stated that the


“Kingdom of God” was a symbol deeply rooted in the minds of Jesus’ contemporary Jewish

people; ancient Jewish literature spoke of “the kingship of God” (the Psalms e.g.) a myth common

to many peoples of the ancient Near East. But it was not a symbol with a clearly defined restricted meaning of one specific “thing”; it rather referred to the way people experienced the work of God in

their lives against the background of the idea that God cared for His people, and to God’s Covenant

by way of which He had promised to eventually redeem His people from their miseries. We should

realize that especially in the time of Jesus the quite loaded expectation was buzzing that this

Divine promise would be fulfilled soon. So, Jesus by way of his kingdom sayings and his parables,

which in fact refer to the kingdom (Perrin : “The Kingdom of God is the ultimate referent of all

parables of Jesus”), might have provoked common, collective, deeply psychologically

rooted religious sentiments in his hearers, but then by totally unexpected turnings in his

parable stories fundamentally disturbed their feelings of comfort with these fashionable

sentiments by giving them time and again a baffling twist. This must have upset his hearers, as

it totally disrupted their conventional way of thinking, challenging the convictions they held so

strongly and dearly about the Hebrew God and the way He works among them as a people and in

their lives as individuals, leaving them totally perplexed - thus is the power of metaphor! And

metaphor implicates that aiming at a fixed, “ultimately” true interpretation of the parable, is an

unrealistic endeavor. Perrin quotes Dodd (1935) who stated that Jesus’ kingdom sayings have no

parallel in Jewish teaching or prayers of the period, so they were quite a personal and unique

method of Jesus. Dodd also said that hearers of Jesus might have interpreted the sayings

referring “to the transient order beyond time and space”, a statement, Perrin remarks, was never

found convincing by other scholars. Dodd implied that the Patched Garment and The Old

Wine-skins parables meant to say that Jesus’ ministry cannot be accommodated to traditional

Judaism! Perrin agrees with Dodd in that the parables implied the presence of the Kingdom.

Discussing Jülicher, Perrin says: the parables as parables did not have a “message”. They tease

the mind into ever new perceptions of reality: they startle the imagination, they function like symbols

in that they “give rise to thought”. However, despite the fact that so much concerning “the kingdom”

has been written from academic theological perspectives, we should never forget that Jesus

addressed mainly the common people, and the subjects and themes Jesus used reflect that, or

as Perrin (1976) stated: “the parables of Jesus are pictures and stories drawn from petit-bourgeois

and peasant life in Palestine under the early Roman emperors”. So, despite all the academic

explanatory methods, modes and modules applied to Jesus sayings and his parables, we should

listen to them with rather naïve ears in the first place, lest their meaning should fully escape us!




According to Quispel (2004) the saying argues against the material perception of heaven

and hell; they are not somewhere out there, but in the soul. Maximus Confessor said:

" [it] does not refer to a temporal nearness..... Rather it refers to the nearness to it

possessed by those who are worthy in a disposition of relationship...." (Berthold,1985).



So, the kingdom is not the place where God lives, neither is it an apocalyptic realization at

the end of times, nor an eschatological realization of a new kingdom of Israel in the world

where God's rule, justice and purity abide. It is something rather personal, and in fact is not

“a thing” at all. The self-evidence that the kingdom sayings or parables, directly or indirectly,

have God as a referent as some presume (Via,1976), may seriously be questioned.


So, what then is it?

Meyers (2009) considers the kingdom as Jesus taught it as the right relationship with God,

not in the future, but in the "here and now", whereas in his parables "he sought to reverse human expectations of rewards and punishments....the rewards of faith would be intrinsic....".



Thomas' Jesus does not say in conventional language, but eventually we may interpreted the

term as a state of awareness one lives in; awareness regarding one’s inner self, but also

regarding the world around. These are not two different states, but one, and intricately winded

up with being human. A state in which one rules over the All. Maybe it was the ruling that

made Jesus use the term kingdom, but in any case, it seems that he used a common term but

only with the aim to lure his hearers into a direction he had in mind.

That is why in Thomas the kingdom is many times compared with a person in an actual,

quite possible situation or activity; the kingdom has to do with the human

predicament at a very fundamental level of existence. Perrin discussing Funk states: the realism

of the parables shows that man’s destiny is at stake in his ordinary existence ; “the everydayness

of the parables is translucent to the grounds of man’s existence” (Funk).



Jesus avoids being caught into the regular game of forcing to define things as

either X or its opposite. By such silence he actually underlines the pointlessness of defining

reality in conventional terms, but tries to open up our minds to a reality of a different kind.

The Buddha acted in a similar way; a stance which was later developed into the Buddhistic

philosophy of the Middle Way.



Breech (1983) suggested: Jesus re-interpreted the meaning of the kingdom in order to describe

that power which generated the being of persons who acted in freedom from tribal controls.

Jesus employs the language of the kingdom, but uses this language in a way that differs

explicitly from the usage of his contemporaries, predecessors and successors, whereas

he maintains a deafening silence with respect to these [ = apocalyptic, political, social]

expectations. Breech considered that Jesus referred to a power in which human beings

participate, a dimension of human experience, which comes upon individuals.

Spong (2002) quotes Bultmann who spoke about the Kingdom or realm of God as “a power

which although it is entirely future, wholly determines the present”.


In general, Jesus sought to reverse the hearer's normal expectation (Scott, 1981).

Thomas’ Jesus’ approach was similar to what the Buddha advised his followers:

to try and formulate the teaching in terms people could understand at their own level,

and alluding to similar ideas in their minds – making use of expedient means.

This Buddhist principle was most simply summed-up by the Zen master

Hui Hai (2007) when quoting a sutra in this respect:

ordinary people who cling to forms

must be taught in accordance with their capacities.

It is a kind of "mental Judo": take hold of someone's mind, and at the moment of certainty

about the familiar, the certainty is brought down, leaving the "opponent" in a state of

confusion and wonder. It is only from such experience that truths of a different order

than the usual may be perceived.

The Buddhist message was also "accommodated" to the popular mind; not the truth glimpsed

by the philosophic few, but as much of truth as it can comprehend (Streeter, 1932).

Streeter pointed at the difficulty the Christian=Greek mind has always had with such approach,

as it tried to understand reality, including things religious, in an intellectualistic or at least

philosophical way. Thomas' Jesus, just as the Buddha shunned such approach. ...for the matter

to be dealt with was one which baffled intellectualisation in terms of Greek philosophy

(Streeter, 1932).




If you wonder how to seek the kingdom, then:

empty your mind from all priory held religious ideas and convictions,

even of the idea of a heaven in the sky where God remains in His Kingdom.

Otherwise you may miss the point completely.


Also in:

Luke 17.20.





Some explanation on "expedient means".


“Expedient means” refers to the skillfully adapted way the Buddha employed in expounding

his teachings in order to lead as many people as possible to enlightenment. This principle is

specifically explained in the Mahayana Lotus Sutra ( Watson, 1993). A basic element in it was

that the teachings were adapted according to the hearers’ capacity to understand:

The quality of the Buddha’s preaching

is like a rain of a single flavor,

but depending upon the nature of the living being,

the way in which it is received is not uniform,

just as the various plants and trees

each receive the moisture in a different manner.


So, the sutra says: And in accordance with what each is capable of hearing, he [the Buddha]

preaches the Dharma for them in an immeasurable variety of ways so that all of them are

delighted and are able to gain excellent benefits therefrom. And: the Buddha preaches the Dharma

[= the teachings] in accordance with what is appropriate, [so that] you can have faith in it, you

can accept it. And: When all the various living beings hear my Dharma, they receive it according

to their power….


So, the Sutra expresses that people differ in the way they perceive, experience

and assimilate the teachings, and that even the Buddha himself adapted his preaching to meet

such differences. In the Buddhist literature we may see how far the Buddha sometimes

stretched this principle in employing concepts and ideas his audience held, but on the veracity

of which he never wanted to talk, considering such talk utterly idle.

The Lotus Sutra also says: This Dharma is not something that can be understood through

pondering or analysis, which it likely held in common with Thomas Jesus’ teachings; it is

not contentious reasoning which may lead to acceptance of the teachings, but skillful

teaching by making use of “expedient means”.


It may seem far-fetched to relate the Buddha’s way of teaching to that of Thomas’ Jesus, but let

me point at some work that suggests that the approach was not at all something alien in early

Christian teaching.


In his paper Symbolic Eschatology and the Apocalypticism of Q , Kloppenborg

(1987) quoting Wilder (Amos N. Wilder, Eschatology and Ethics in the Teaching of Jesus. New

York/London: Harper & Bros., 1939; 39-40, 51, who says:…. when the purport of historical

phenomena exhausts statement in immediate and realistic terms, it can only be adequately conveyed by the imaginative terms of faith….) argues that in Q apocalyptic language

was employed to dramatize the importance of recognizing and responding to the process of

redemption which Jesus saw as moving to its climax…….because the symbolic

character of apocalyptic language could be turned to serve Q's particular aims. Such language

is used creatively to dramatize the transfiguration of the present: apocalyptic symbols lend their

force both negatively, by the subverting of confidence in the everydayness of existence, and

positively, by buttressing a vision of rich and empowered existence based on the instruction

of Jesus. And: ….Q takes over the images of judgment and catastrophic destruction and

redeploys other traditional apocalyptic topoi as corollary to its "antistructural" ethic. Based

on his interpretation Kloppenborg argues that Q is not primarily apocalyptic at all, although only

looking at the content of the texts he analyses, would suggest otherwise.


Smith (1990) in his chapter on the meaning of words quotes from HAA Kennedy’s St. Paul and

the Mystery Religions –London,1913. On the words Paul “borrowed” from the mystery cults

Kennedy says that an individual like Paul could not borrow without transforming, and Smith

concludes that where Paul uses mystic terminology, terms may occur, but they have been shorn

of their meaning……perhaps employed rhetorically, or – quote Kennedy, the words were as

little else than convenient channels of appeal to the popular interest.

Smith also quotes from the work of Nock AD (sources on pg. 68 of Smith), who stated :

Christian missionaries had to use the language of the time, and this language often had

religious connotations that were more or less living, and that a stray hearer might well regard

the new teaching as something not different in kind from the other religions of the time.


So, strongly appealing, familiar language was used not because of its content as it

was regular understood, but mainly because such content carried symbolic, appealing

overtones - or in our case: imaginative terms of faith, to speak with Wilder - which are

used to clarify something that cannot easily be made apprehensible in immediate and

realistic terms. The fact that early Jesus-followers and Paul made use of such means

does not argue against the possibility that Jesus himself did the same.

If he did, and I think he did, the interpretation of his Thomas’ sayings may be viewed from an

unexpected angle. However, it also allows us to recognize a general pattern in a number

of sayings, which, approached from a different perspective would remain rather puzzling.