THE KINGDOM OF THE HEAVENS
March 20, 2012
“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
Jesus gave this answer to Pontius Pilate as an explanation of why the Kingdom Jesus spoke of was no threat to the Roman kingdom. This answer also provides us with a great starting point from which to unfold the true nature of the Kingdom of the Heavens. For sometimes, the easiest ways to comprehend a thing is to spend time contemplating its antithesis. The antithesis of the Kingdom of the Heavens is the Kingdom of the Earth, also referred to as the Kingdom of Man or the Kingdom of the World.
The Kingdom of Man is the world of mankind, including all of its material creatures and creations, all of its knowledge and philosophies, and all of its earthly attitudes and desires. It came into existence with the creation of the first man. All of us begin life and live within this kingdom. We learn to engage our environment on terms that ensure the greatest likelihood of physical survival and potential for happiness. We learn that in the Kingdom of Man, we must have food, water and shelter and we develop various ways of meeting these needs – in both lawful and unlawful ways.
In the Kingdom of Man, we accept the reality that the physical body will wear out and expire. And according to our earthly knowledge and philosophies, death is the end of the ride. However, in conflict with what we learn through our earthly sciences, we seem to have an inherent desire for immortality. Death, to a normal functioning mind, always comes too soon. In answer to this inexplicable desire, we create various methods for achieving “substituted” immortality through our children and through different forms of memorialization – genealogies, honors, awards, and memorial tombs. And in spite of all the medical advances in our Kingdom, life under this Kingdom unfailingly comes to an end.
While we must develop some type of civilization during our earthly sojourn, we live under this ever-present reality of our personal extinction. Thus, the “rules of engagement” always give priority to self-preservation. “Do unto others before they do unto you.” It is as Paul said, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth.” (Romans 8:22)
This is the reality most of mankind lives under. But let us now contrast the Kingdom of Man with the Kingdom of the Heavens.
The Kingdom of the Heavens is the spiritual world in which the Father and his Christ reside, along with all superhuman creatures and creations, all higher knowledge and truth, and all superlative attitudes and desires. The Kingdom of the Heavens was not “established” with the advent of the Christ on earth. Since it is the world of the Father, it came into existence in the “beginning” when the “Word was:”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
– John 1:1-3
We do not begin life within the Kingdom of the Heavens, but we are ever invited to enter. And when we do, we learn to engage our environment on terms that ensure the greatest likelihood of eternal survival and potential for happiness. We learn that to enter the Kingdom of the Heavens, we must have two things:
(1) faith sincerity – freedom from prejudice and preconception, an open-mind and a teachable spirit like an unspoiled child:
“‘And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’”
– Matthew 18:3
and (2) truth hunger – the thirst for righteousness, and the acquirement of the motive to be like God and to find God:
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
– John 4:23-24
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
– Matthew 5:6
And we learn ways to meet those needs through the life example and teaching of Jesus and the spirit of truth:
“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
– John 14:6
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.”
– John 16:13-14
In the Kingdom of the Heavens, we accept the reality that while the physical body will wear out and expire, we will be given a spiritual body that will live on. We know that death is not the end of the ride and that our inherent desire for actual immortality will be fulfilled:
“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”
– 1 Corinthians 15:42-44
In the Kingdom of the Heavens, we learn new “rules of engagement” that give priority to love of God and love of your fellowman. We are taught:
“‘Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
– Matthew 22:37-39
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
– Luke 6:31
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
– John 13:35
By contemplating this contrast, we gain a better appreciation of what the Kingdom of the Heavens truly is. In its most overarching context, the word “Kingdom” as it relates to God is more synonymous with the word “realm” than with the word “government.” However, it indeed does govern our behavior because the laws of the Kingdom of the Heavens are written, not on tablets or law books, but in our hearts, as prophesied by Jeremiah:
“‘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
We might liken entrance into the Kingdom of the Heavens to acceptance into a fraternity or an 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 community and are subject to higher standards of behavior.
In the Kingdom of the Heavens, we relate to God as a loving Father. Thus, all those who enter become known as sons of God and consequently brothers to each other. We then have a personal experience of realizing higher qualities of spiritual living, while on earth, that are progressively translated to new and higher levels of divine certainty and eternal security.
The Kingdom of the Heavens has a dual nature. It is both a present reality and a future goal. We comprehend the Kingdom of the Heavens is a present reality by Jesus’ words that “the kingdom of the heavens has come near.” (Matthew 4:17; 10:7; Luke 10:11)
“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, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
– Luke 17:20-21
It is already here! You can enter it now. For those who elect to enter the Kingdom of the Heavens now, we gain profound peace of mind.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
– Romans 8:38-39
But it is also a future goal in the sense that, within the Kingdom, we can more fully perfect God’s love and expand its influence. As a result, we experience the natural and inevitable outgrowth of the fruitage of the spirit – “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
This is the Kingdom to which we are to be ambassadors. We can see how we are citizens of this heavenly Kingdom, but also temporary residents in the Kingdom of Man, entreating our fellows to also enter the Kingdom and “Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
Knowing that the Kingdom of the Heavens is spiritual and not from any earthly source (John 18:36), we then ask: What is its relation to the physical congregation, the church? We will discuss this aspect of the Kingdom in a future article.
We welcome your comments.
“Your Brothers in the Faith”