Heaven was rightly understood to be the realm of abode of the Creator God, and the ongoing movement of that God that occurred through His people was for the purpose of causing heaven and earth to come together (this is what is understood of any temple, and the Jerusalem Temple specifically). When it comes to the Biblical narrative, when acts in accordance with the covenant responsibilities of the covenant people were performed, such as caring for orphans and widows (an extraordinarily prominent theme throughout the Hebrew Scriptures), that was when heaven and earth were over-lapping and the Creator God’s will was being done on earth as in heaven.
The long-sought-after kingdom of heaven, among other things, was the time when this overlap of the abode of the Creator God and the realm of man (the creation in which the creatures made in that God’s image dwelt and were called to steward) would finally and completely take place. When the kingdom of heaven was fully and finally manifest, and the Creator God ruled over His redeemed creation, it would then be said that “Death has been swallowed up in victory,” and questions such as “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54b-55) could be triumphantly posed. The Apostle Paul rightly connects the coming of the kingdom of heaven with the resurrection of the dead, thus indicating that this was a feature of first century Jewish thought.
Joining with the participants of the early church to and for whom Luke wrote, it is now possible to stand in the place of one who would have heard the story told in Luke’s Gospel. In doing so one hears “Then someone from the crowd said to Him (Jesus), ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’” (12:13) Though the parable will not be touched on here, this statement and the words from Jesus that follow will still be resounding in the ears of an audience well-trained to provide comprehensive attention to an oral-performance-oriented presentation such as Luke’s narrative, when the fifteenth chapter is reached and they hear “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that will belong to me.’” (15:12a)
The way that the crowd will hear and understand the parable that follows that introduction will not only be shaped by community and cultural norms and traditions, but it will also be shaped by what is seen and heard in chapter twelve. Of course, it cannot be forgotten that any story that begins with “a man had two sons” would immediately cause a Jew to consider Jacob and Esau (or Isaac and Ishmael) and the foundations of their nation.
Returning to the request that is made of Jesus concerning the inheritance, Jesus responds by saying “Man, who made Me a judge or arbitrator between you two?” (12:14) Though it is not entirely relevant to this particular study, an interesting point can be made here based on Jesus’ response. As part of Luke’s efforts in his two part series of what came to be called the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, Luke makes the effort to paint Jesus as a Moses-like figure (as does Matthew).
This can be seen in Peter’s speech that is recorded in the third chapter of Acts (3:22-26), where Peter references Deuteronomy 18:15, making it clear with what follows that it is his understanding that Jesus is the promised prophet like Moses. Based upon this, it is not inconceivable that Jesus’ question of “who made me a judge or arbitrator between you two,” would cause His hearers to hearken back to the story of Moses and to his attempt to settle a dispute between two of his countrymen. Though it is Moses that is there rebuffed with a response of “Who made you a ruler and judge over us?” (Exodus 2:14a), Luke’s very subtle point is made, and the notion that any attempt to understand Jesus must be grounded in the history of Israel is reinforced.