GOOD NEWS FOR A MODERN WORLD
WHAT IS THE KINGDOM OF THE HEAVENS?
October 21, 2012
From the beginning, understanding the Kingdom of God has been a challenge. Even though the Kingdom was introduced by the Christ himself, his disciples and even his apostles had trouble understanding it. Initially, being all Jews, they believed the Messiah would be a savior and deliverer for Israel alone who would end the gentile rule, regenerate the Jewish nation as God’s chosen people, and rule as the Kingdom of God over the earth from the throne of David. Jesus spent over three years teaching and instructing them, but their expectations did not change. (Luke 19:11; 24:21). Even after his death, their national hopes were still alive:
“Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’”
– Acts 1:6
These faithful men did not understand that the Kingdom of God is not an earthly kingdom and does not favor a particular race or people. That simply was not in their world view. But as time passed, they began to more clearly understand it.
Christians today who want to understand the Kingdom of God must focus on how Jesus explained the Kingdom, not on how the ancient Jews explained it. When we reach back to the ‘old wine,’ our understanding will be veiled. (2 Corinthians 3:15) If, instead, we look to the ‘new wine’ as contained in the Christian scriptures, we will come to a more clear understanding of the Kingdom and be better equipped ambassadors of it.
Because of the use of the word “kingdom,” many view God’s Kingdom as a government similar to the types of governments we are familiar with on earth. But Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is unlike any kingdom we have ever known:
“Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
– John 18:36
If the Kingdom Jesus taught about was like earthly kingdoms, his heavenly attendants would have fought to the death to prevent the capture and death of their king. That did not occur. Jesus was quite willing to subject himself to the hands of his enemies and would not allow even his earthly followers to interfere with that.
“With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”
– Matthew 26:51-53
This tells us that the Kingdom of God does not subdue its enemies by carnal warfare, nor can it be defeated by carnal warfare. It is “not from this source,” meaning it does not originate or operate like earthly kingdoms. The Kingdom of God is a new idea, an ennobling concept, an elevated view of dominion that affects the heart of man, the mind of man, the spirit of man, not just his body.
The Kingdom of God revealed by Jesus is the realization and acknowledgment of God's rule within the hearts of men. It is a spiritual brotherhood whose power exists not in the strength of armies or the might of riches, but in the glory of the divine spirit that rules in the hearts of its reborn citizens.
“Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed.”
– Luke 17:20
Other translations express it this way:
“[T]he kingdom of God is in the midst of you." – Revised Standard Version
“God's kingdom is already among you." – Common English Bible
But if Jesus was saying that the Kingdom is within us, why would he say that to the Pharisees? Had he not denounced them as hypocrites? Yes he had, but there are a few things we must remember about Jesus’ ministry.
First, not all the Pharisees were against Jesus; many became believers and later were prominent members of the Jerusalem Christian congregation. (Acts 15:5) In fact, many were secret believers in him as was Nicodemus.
“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
– John 3:1-2
So we cannot say that Jesus could not have been telling certain Pharisees that the Kingdom was within them.
And we know that at least one of the scribes was a believer:
“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.”
– Mark 12:28-34
Further, the idea that the Kingdom would exercise its authority in the hearts of men is indicated in one of Jeremiah’s prophesies:
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
– Jeremiah 31:33
While it seems appropriate to call it a Kingdom or a divine government, it is truly more of a brotherhood – a family or a fraternity – where God is our Father, and we are all brothers. It is the experience of the spiritual relationship between God and man, and man with each other. We might liken entrance into the Kingdom of the Heavens to acceptance into a professional association, like an attorney who passes the State Bar or a doctor who acquires his medical license. From that point on, they are a part of their unique communities and are subject to higher standards of behavior, though they live and interact in the same world as everyone else.
Jesus’ concept of the Kingdom has a double nature. He taught that the Kingdom of God on earth would be accomplished by the doing of the will of God on earth; whereas the Kingdom of God in heaven is the ever-present reality that believers can share in the future where the will of God is done more divinely.
“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
– Matthew 6:9-10
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
– John 14:1-3
Unfortunately, by describing the Kingdom of God as a government, the early Christians found themselves in direct conflict with the Roman government. Much of the persecution of early Christians originated from this misconception more than from their faith in Christ Jesus. And this misnomer continues to cause problems for Christians today.
By referring to the Kingdom of God as a coming government that will engage in carnal warfare with worldly governments, the Christian message appears to be a threat to national sovereignty. We create our own persecution when we advance theories such as these.
The truth is that the Kingdom of God will enhance the citizenry of any and every nation and government which will naturally create better living conditions for all who hear and exercise faith in the message, and enter into the spiritual brotherhood. In this way, the enemies of Christ are subdued, ‘not by a military force, nor by power, but by my spirit.’ (Zechariah 4:6)
Jesus as “King”
Yes, we could say that Jesus is the king of the Kingdom of God. But it would be more accurate to say that he is the elder brother in the family of God. He is our exemplar:
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
– Matthew 16:24
“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
– John 14:6
He is commissioned by our Father to bring us to perfection:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
– Hebrews 12:1-2
And he is generous and shares his inheritance with us:
“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
– Romans 8:16-17
Jesus is a qualified and well-equipped elder brother who deals with us as would our heavenly Father:
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”
– Hebrews 1:3
By means of his earthly sojourn, Jesus knows and understands his earthly brothers and can act in a priestly capacity (Malachi 2:7) as a sympathetic teacher and administrator:
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
– Hebrews 4:14-16
But Jesus is more than a mere king, and more than our elder brother. He is, in fact, our Creator by the Father’s will:
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”
– Colossians 1:15-16
After Jesus was resurrected, and just prior to him being taken up into heaven, he told his disciples:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
– Matthew 28:18-20
So at that time, in 33 C.E., Jesus was given sovereignty over the Kingdom of God in heaven and as it develops on earth. Are we then to assume that he was ruling his entire universe alone? Of course not! He has myriads of attendants who were working with him prior to his bestowal on earth (John 18:36) and ‘legions of angels.’ (Matthew 26:53) Every living things in our universe was created by the Christ long, long ago. He surely created beings that are part of his administrative and executive staff, beings far superior in knowledge, wisdom and understanding than man.
Also, while on earth, Jesus said that he was going away to prepare places for us in heaven.(John 14:2-4) Is he doing this preparation work all alone? Hardly! Knowing that Christ Jesus is perfect and complete, we have no doubt that his administration is now, always has been, and always will be fully staffed, lacking nothing and no one.
However, we know that the book of Revelation refers to a special administration of certain ones who will rule with Christ during a 1,000 year period.
“And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
– Revelation 5:9-10
“I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”
– Revelation 20:4-6
Since this is prophecy, we are not certain who these individual will be. There are differing interpretations of these verses and who are represented. Some of us may be among that number, but it appears that most of us will not. We recall an account where certain apostles of Jesus asked him to appoint them to certain positions in the Kingdom of God:
“Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
– Matthew 20:20-23
Since Jesus did not know, we do not suspect we will have prior knowledge of it either, at least not until the Father elects to specifically reveal it. But this is not at all bad news for us faith-sons of God. We suspect that when we begin the heavenly assent to the Father, our hearts will be focused on going forward. While some may have assignments that deal with the earth, but we suspect that the vast majority of us will be going on to bigger and better things:
“Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, neither have there been conceived in the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love him.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:9
The Authority of Jesus
As Jesus said at Matthew 28:18, ‘all authority had been given him in heaven and on earth’ upon his resurrection in 33 C.E. As such, we suspect that the heavens were cleaned out at that time. There would be no adversary of Christ in heaven after he gained full sovereignty over the universe.
However, some point to a prophecy in Revelation that states that ‘the great dragon, the original serpent, the one called Devil, and Satan, and all his angels’ will be ousted from heaven:
“Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”
– Revelation 12:7-10, 12
Most look at that prophesy as an event that would occur at least some time after the writer John’s death. But John was also told that the things he was to record included things that had already happened, things that were happening then, as well as things that would happen in the future:
“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.”
– Revelation 1:19
This is one reason why we view it as unwise to place our eternal hopes on the book of Revelation. We cannot be sure which things are truly in our future! But our point is that the great dragon may have been ousted from heaven in 33 C.E., which could explain the intense persecution of the first century Christians, “against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.” (Revelation 12:17) But, again, this is prophecy and just one way to look at an interpretation.
The Blessings of God’s Kingdom
Jesus put it simply:
“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
– Matthew 6:9-10
The Kingdom would accomplish the Father’s will on earth in the same way as it is being done in heaven, but what is God’s will?
“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
– John 6:40
“He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”
- Ephesians 1:5
“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
– 1 Timothy 2:3-4
The will of the Father is that all men come to know that they are His children – the sacred secret of our adoption! The Kingdom of God on earth develops men and women into spiritual faith-sons of the Father and fosters their desire to serve their fellow man as brothers and sisters. It creates a united family of mankind from the small beginnings of Jesus and his apostles:
“He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
– Matthew 13:31-33
We are a confused planet of diverse opinions, adverse interests, false hopes, ignorant plans, and misplaced loyalties. The Kingdom of God can and will unite all mankind in a loving brotherhood that honors the Father, yet encourages the manifestation of our uniqueness and the expression of our free will.
It is by means of the Kingdom of God that mankind finds its true identity and destiny. And when that occurs, so many of our manifold problems will dissipate as we focus on getting a hold of the real life – life in the heavens.
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”
– 1 Timothy 6:17-19
Finally, the Kingdom of God is the means by which God reconciles all things to Himself, until even the sleep of death is nor more.
“Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”
– 1 Corinthians 15:24-28
After all is said and done, we must remember that the Kingdom of God is not ours. It is not given to man to change it to our own liking or to conform it to our limited finite understanding. We are just its ambassadors. We are to preach it exactly as Jesus taught it, to the best of our ability.
“Your Brothers in Faith”