If the Jews were expecting a red carpet to be rolled out for the new Davidic king, then they have not been paying close attention to the story of David’s kingship. David’s journey to his kingship is anything but smooth. The journey of the King is one of deportation and distress. This specific movement, this journey that Matthew traces, is the way the kingdom comes. The way of Christ is the way of exile. The way of the kingdom of heaven is the way of rejection. The kingdom of heaven conquers the kingdom of the earth by doing what they least expect. It is truly the upside-down kingdom.
One of the most well-known truths in the Gospels is that Jesus’s message centers on the arrival of the kingdom of God. And one of the most well-known truths in Matthew is that he describes it as the “kingdom of heaven” rather than kingdom of God.
Historically, the explanation has been that Matthew, because of his Jewish background, avoided using the name of God. However, a brief survey of Matthew reveals that at other places Matthew does not shy away from using the term God.
Therefore, more likely Matthew has a theological and narratival purpose for using this phrase. He employs the term “kingdom of heaven” to highlight the distinction between the kingdoms of the earth and the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’s ministry both challenges and conquers the kingdoms of earth by bringing the heavenly kingdom.
However, how does Jesus bring the kingdom? Though there are many ways one could describe it, this article will show that Jesus brings the kingdom of heaven to earth by the way of exile, scorn, and death. Without seeing Jesus’s path to the throne, readers will miss the nature of this king and kingdom. Rather than conquering the kingdoms of the earth with the sword, Jesus submits himself to exile and scorn. He becomes a servant and the sacrifice as the humble-servant-king who saves his people by not sending them into battle, but fighting their battle for them. All of this fulfills the Scriptures.
The Way of Exile
While Matthew announces that Jesus is the Davidic king in his first verse, he makes readers go through his narrative to see how Jesus is installed as the king of the kingdom. Jesus is declared the Davidic king at the beginning, but he is immediately exiled by the sitting king of Jerusalem (Herod) in the second chapter of Matthew. And in case one thinks Jesus will return shortly, he actually spends most of his ministry outside of Jerusalem (Mattew 3–20). Only at the end does he return to his city. The narrative point is clear: to be enthroned Jesus first goes into exile and leaves the city of the King.