Alfred Edersheim on the Kingdom of Heaven and the Yoke of Christ

Yoke of Love

"My Yoke is Easy"

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent: for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matt 3:1-2).

Behold, the Kingdom of God is in your midst (Luke 17:21).

Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls; for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Mt. 11:28-30).

Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Co., 1971 [orig. 1883]), vol. I, pp. 267-270.

“A review of many passages on the subject shows that, in the Jewish mind the expression ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ referred, not so much to any particular period, as in general to the Rule of God—as acknowledged, manifested, and eventually perfected.  Very often is the equivalent for personal acknowledgment of God: the taking upon oneself of the ‘yoke’ of ‘the Kingdom,’ or of the commandments—the former preceding and conditioning the latter.  Accordingly, the Mishnah gives this as the reason why, in the collection of Scripture passages which forms the prayer call ‘Shema,’ the confession, 4 &c., precedes the admonition, Deut. xi. 13 &c., because a man takes upon himself first the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, and afterwards that of the commandments.  And in this sense, the repetition of this Shema, as the personal acknowledgment of the Rule of Jehovah, is itself often designated as ‘taking upon oneself the Kingdom of Heaven.’  Similarly, the putting on of phylacteries, and the washing of hands, are also described as taking upon oneself the yoke of the Kingdom of God.  To give other instances: Israel is said to have taken up the yoke of the Kingdom of God at Mount Sinai; the children of Jacob at their last interview with their father; and Isaiah on his call to the prophetic office, where it is also noted that this must be done willingly and gladly.  On the other hand, the sons of Eli and the sons of Ahab are said to have cast off the Kingdom of Heaven.  While thus the acknowledgment of the Rule of God, both in profession and practice, was considered to constitute the Kingdom of God, it’s full manifestation was expected only in the time of the Advent of the Messiah . . . .

“. . . . we must dismiss the notion that the expression [Kingdom of Heaven] refers to the Church, whether visible (according to the Roman Catholic view) or invisible (according to certain Protestant writers).  ‘The Kingdom of God,’ or Kingly Rule of God, is an objective fact.  The visible church can only be the subjective attempt at its outward realisation, of which the invisible Church is the true counterpart.  When Christ says, that ‘except a man be born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God,’ He teaches, in opposition to the Rabbinic representation of how ‘the Kingdom’ was taken up, that a man cannot even comprehend that glorious idea of the Reign of God, and of becoming, by conscious self-surrender, one of His subjects, except he be first born from above.  Similarly, the meaning of Christ’s further teaching on this subject seems to be that, except a man be born of water (profession, with baptism as its symbol) and the spirit, he cannot really enter into the fellowship of that Kingdom.

“In fact, an analysis of 119 passages in the New Testament where the expression ‘Kingdom’ occurs, shows that it means the Rule of God; which was manifested in and through Christ; is apparent in ‘the Church’; gradually develops amidst hindrances; is triumphant at the second coming of Christ (‘the end’); and, finally, perfected in the world to come.  Thus viewed, the announcement of John of the near Advent of this Kingdom had deepest meaning, although, as so often in the case of prophetism, the stages intervening between the Advent of the Christ and the triumph of that Kingdom seem to have been hidden from the preacher. . . .

“. . . .  Did they who, notwithstanding their sins, lived in such security of carelessness and self-righteousness, really understand and fear the final consequences of resistance to the coming ‘Kingdom’?  If so, theirs must be a repentance not only in profession, but of heart and mind, such as would yield fruit, both good and visible.  Or else did they imagine that, according to the common notion of the time, the vials of wrath were to be poured out only on the Gentiles, while they, as Abraham’s children, were sure of escape—in the words of the Talmud, that ‘the night’ (Is. xxi. 12) was ‘only to the nations of the world, but the morning to Israel’?”

© 2010 Paul A. Hughes


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