kingdom heaven god jewish citizen meek inherit earth

I find the concept of the kingdom of Heaven exciting. I love the fact that I am already a citizen and an 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).[2] This prayer implies that the kingdom of Heaven is wherever, and whenever, God’s will is done. It further 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.[3] 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.

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.

Jesus repeatedly stated that all Christian believers (those who continually have faith in him and follow him) will live forever. We have the sure promise of eternal life, but Jesus did not elaborate on where we will spend eternity (e.g., John 3:16).[4]

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 and blessings. 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 Rev. 5:10).


Footnotes

[1] Tom Wright comments on the traditional concept of “heaven.”

“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] It is entirely possible that ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς (lit. “as in heaven, so also on earth”) refers to all three phrases about God’s name, kingdom, and will in Matthew 6:9-10. And there is a nice balance, and perhaps an inclusion, with the repeated word “heaven” in verses 9 and 10:

πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς
Our Father who is in the heavens (or the heavenly realms)
ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου
Let your name be sanctified (or hallowed)
ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου
Let your kingdom come
γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου
Let your will happen (or come into being)
ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς
As in heaven, so also on earth

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

[4] 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).

Postscript: September 9 2020.

In his 2001 book which explores “whether and in what ways the teaching of the New Testament is compatible with, or may contribute to, the vision of restorative justice,” Christopher Marshall writes,

It is not possible to arrive at a single, precise definition of what Jesus meant by the phrase “kingdom of God.” It functions as a kind of umbrella term that embraces all the diverse ways that God’s eschatological sovereignty impinges on human life. Nonetheless, it is possible to identify three major facets of Jesus’ kingdom proclamation that, taken together, provide a kind of summary conception of what he meant by the term.
First, the advent of God’s kingdom meant the presence of God’s end-time power to put things right on the earth, in accordance with God’s ultimate intentions for creation. This is seen pre-eminently in Jesus’ miracles and exorcisms.
Second, the coming of the kingdom meant the closeness of God’s personal presence to bring men and women into a new relationship of intimacy with God. This is demonstrated, for example, in Jesus’ table fellowship with outcasts, in his forgiveness of sins, and in his emphasis on God as Abba (“father”).
Third, the dawning of the kingdom meant the creation of a messianic community that was to live in a manner consistent with the demands of the new age in the midst of the old, challenging the unjust status quo by its very existence as a dissident community of equals. This is the chief concern in Jesus’ ethical teaching.
Christopher D. Marshall, Beyond Retribution: The New Testament Vision of Justice, Crime and Punishment (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 70-71.

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