Saying #3 – Jesus said, “[If] those who lead you [say to you, ‘See], the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky [will precede you. If they say that] it is under the earth, then the fish of the sea [will enter it, preceding] you. And, the [kingdom of God] is inside of you, [and it is outside of you. Whoever] knows [himself] will discover this. [And when you] come to know yourselves, [you will realize that] you are [sons] of the [living] father. [But if you] will [not] know yourselves, [you dwell] in [poverty] and it is you who are that poverty.” – HW Attridge – Oxyrhynchus
There are a couple of interesting points in this saying —
Knowledge …. the gospel of Thomas advocates salvation through the aquisition and understanding of secret knowledge, as opposed to the canonical gospels which put emphasis on faith and good works. This third saying tells us that if we come to know ourselves (hat tip to Socrates), we will then find the kingdom of heaven/God.
The Kingdom … the kingdom of heaven/God is not, according to this gospel, a physical place or an event that will happen in the future. It is here, it is now, it is inside us – it is an epiphany that becomes a state of mind. I’ve read that gnosticism and Buddhism share some concepts – one of these may be this idea of enlightenment. In zen Buddhism, one term for this is kensho … an awakening experience of one’s true or Buddha nature. In the gospel of Thomas, the realization is that we’re children of God.
In the canonical gospels, the concept of the kingdom of heaven/God is usually expressed in parables. My favorite one is Matthew 20:1-16 … a landowner goes out at different times during the day and hires men to work in his vineyard. At the end of the day, all the workers are paid the same amount of money, despite the fact that some had worked much longer hours than others. As opposed to the kingdom in the gospel of Thomas, this kingdom isn’t earned.
I can’t say I understand exactly what is meant in either the gnostic or the canonical examples of the kingdom of heaven/God, but I do have a thought about the difference they hold for me. I’ve had few epiphanies in life and if my salvation were to depend on my understanding of secret knowledge, well, as a gnostic, I’d probably be out of luck. But fortunately, the attainment of the kingdom of heaven/God as portrayed in the canonical gospels does not have to be deserved… it is a gift of love.