Earth from Space

I find the concept of  “the kingdom of Heaven” exciting. I love the fact that I am already a citizen and agent of the kingdom of Heaven, and that I have a thrilling future to look forward to.

The Kingdom of Heaven Here and Now

Many Christians associate the kingdom of Heaven with a future life in a place called “heaven” as opposed to, and distinct from, our present life in this earthly realm. In some of his parables Jesus spoke about the kingdom of Heaven as a future reality, but in many other parables Jesus indicated that the kingdom is already here and in progress.[1]

(Note that in Matthew’s Gospel, “the kingdom of Heaven” is used, while in Mark, Luke, and John, “the kingdom of God” is used. Both phrases, however, refer to the same concept.)

In Luke 17:20b-21, Jesus said, “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 (or, within you.)” The kingdom is of Heaven is here with us now.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gives us further insight into the kingdom and how it comes. Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10, my italics.) This prayer implies that the kingdom of Heaven is wherever, and whenever, God’s will is done; and it implies that Jesus wants his kingdom to come on earth. The kingdom comes when we are being obedient to him.

Right now I am part of God’s kingdom. I tell the children in my Religious Education classes that I have dual citizenship: I am currently a citizen of Australia and I am currently a citizen of God’s kingdom. The kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just refer to a future reality.

A Jewish Perspective of the Kingdom of Heaven

I am reading Early Rabbinic Writings at the moment.[2] At the beginning of the book is a glossary of Jewish, rabbinic terms. Here is how the Jews used and understood the term “the Kingdom of Heaven”.

The Kingdom of Heaven: malkut samayim:

1. The rule of God in the present.
2. The eschatological [end time] rule of God over all mankind.

I am fairly certain that when the Gospel writers used the term “Kingdom of Heaven” (and “Kingdom of God”) they were using it with the same meanings as the Jewish rabbinic writers, which is that the kingdom of Heaven refers to God’s reign in this present age, as well as God’s end time rule over all the earth.

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Future

The kingdom has come. It came with Jesus’ first coming, but there will be a future, end time fulfilment. This future phase of the kingdom, however, doesn’t seem to have much to do with what most Christians think of as “heaven.” The Bible does not clearly teach the popular belief that all Christian believers will go and spend eternity in heaven when they die. Rather, Jesus repeatedly stated that all Christian believers (those who continually have faith in him and follow him) will live forever. Jesus did not elaborate on where we will spend eternity (e.g. John 3:16).[3]

We have the sure promise of eternal life. If our allegiance is given to King Jesus then we are part of his eternal kingdom, but this does not necessarily mean that we will all go and spend eternity in heaven. We will probably be spending it on the redeemed new earth.

The Bible tells us that one day there will be new heavens and a new earth, as well as a new Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven (Rev. 21:1-2; cf. Isa. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13). The Bible also tells us that on the Day of Christ, when we see Jesus face to face on earth, our bodies will be transformed and become like Jesus’ glorified body (1 Cor. 15:35ff; Phil. 3:20-21). Moreover, throughout the church’s history, a main tenet of orthodox Christianity is that there is a bodily resurrection from death for God’s people.

Conclusion

As followers of Jesus we are already part of his kingdom and we can already enjoy some kingdom benefits. Still, there is more to Christianity than just the blessing of knowing God and his power in this life (1 Cor. 15:19). We can only imagine what our future will look like when Jesus returns to earth and the promises of the kingdom are fulfilled, but it’s going to be good! Especially for the meek! (Matt. 5:5; see also Revelation 5:10).


Endnotes

[1] “‘God’s kingdom’ in the preaching of Jesus refers not to postmortem destiny, not to our escape from this world into another one, but to God’s sovereign rule coming ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ The roots of the misunderstanding go very deep, not least into the residual Platonism that has infected whole swaths of Christian thinking and has misled people into supposing that Christians are meant to devalue this present world and our present bodies and regard them as shabby or shameful.”  N.T. Wright,  Surprised by Hope,  HarperCollins, Kindle Edition (2009-04-24) p. 18.

[2] Early Rabbinic Writings by Hyam Maccoby, Book 3 of Cambridge Commentaries on Writing of the Jewish and Christian World 200BC to AD200 (Cambridge University Press, 1988, digital version 2008)

[3] In John 14:2-3 Jesus tells his disciples that there are many rooms in his ‘Father’s house’, and that he is going there to prepare a place for them. Since Jesus was soon returning to heaven, many people assume that his ‘Father’s house’ refers to heaven. Previously, however, Jesus had referred to the Temple in Jerusalem as his ‘Father’s house‘ (Luke 2:49; John 2:16-17); and in the Temple there were indeed many residential rooms and apartments. (Jesus also referred to the Temple as a ‘house of prayer’ (Matt. 21:13 cf. Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46); and in Matthew 12:4; Mark 2:26; Luke 6:4 the Temple is referred to as the ‘house of God’.)
Perhaps the Twelve will each have a room in a new house when Jesus returns, rules from the new Jerusalem, and renews everything (Matt. 19:28ff; Rev. 3:11-12; Rev. 21:1-5; cf. Rev. 21:22).

Image:  Earth from Space 


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The Day of Christ – Philippians 3:20-4:1
The Onward, Upward Call – Philippians 3:10-14
Is Jesus Waiting for Us? 
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I recommend Howard Snyder’s short post “Why I don’t expect to go to heaven” here.