This is the second part in a month long series looking at our understanding of Heaven. Over the next few weeks, I will be addressing: Scriptural misunderstandings that have led to our current belief about Heaven, a Biblical understanding of our future hope of Heaven and the Age to Come, and how our belief about our future hope influences our identity and purpose, as Christians, in the present.
If you missed the first post, here it is Heaven.
In this post I am going to address our misunderstanding of the phrase the Kingdom of Heaven and how we have erroneously viewed it as a disembodied future existence and destination for Christians…rather than a present reality experienced in the hearts and lives of Christians that will fully culminate when God establishes His Kingdom on a renewed and restored earth.
If you look closely at the Gospels, you will notice that the author of Matthew uses the phrase Kingdom of Heaven instead of the phrase Kingdom of God like the other Gospel authors. The author of Matthew used the word Heaven instead of God because his letter was written to a Jewish audience, while the other Gospels were written primarily to Gentiles, or those who were not regarded as Jewish.
As you may know, practicing Jews do not write or utter the name of God; for they hold His name in holy reverence. Therefore, the author replaced the name of God, Yahweh, with the word Heaven. Despite this one word being changed, the phrase the Kingdom of Heaven was used to convey the same exact idea as the Kingdom of God in the other Gospels.
So let’s look further at this phrase Kingdom of Heaven, or Kingdom of God, that is mentioned in the Gospels around 120 times and is regarded by Jesus as His primary message, the Good News, He came to announce.
The word Kingdom is taken from the Greek word basilea, which means reign or rule. So what we are dealing with in the Gospels, in essence, is the Reign of God or the Reign of Heaven.
And as you may surmise, the Reign of Heaven isn’t so much a place or location, as much as it is a present condition or a present way of being. It is akin to saying- this is what life looks like when God reigns in and through our lives. It is, quite literally, the present reality of God’s rule and reign in our hearts and actively moving among us.
This is backed up in the Gospel of Luke when Jesus says, “Nor will people say, Look! Here [it is]! or, See, [it is] there! For behold, the kingdom of God is within you [in your hearts] and among you [surrounding you].”
When Jesus uses the phrase Kingdom of Heaven, or the Kingdom of God, it isn’t being used to describe a disembodied future destination for Christians. The phrase is being used to describe the present reality of God’s reign breaking into our hearts, minds, and souls.
Think about the parables of Jesus. Nearly every one of them began with him describing what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Jesus wasn’t describing what heaven would be like one day. He was describing what the Reign of God is like right now on earth.
The parable of the sower is about the seed of God’s Reign being sown presently in the lives of people on earth.
The parable of the hidden treasure is about the treasure of God’s Reign being sought after presently in order to find the great riches of God on earth.
The parable of the pearl is about the pearl of God’s Reign that one is giving all of his earthly treasure to attain.
The parable of the farmer and the seed is about the seed of the God’s Reign being sown presently and it growing on earth by God’s power.
The parable of the mustard seed is about how the smallest seed of God’s Reign is taking root on earth and growing wildly and invasively through the entire earth.
The parable of the yeast is about how a small portion of God’s Reign is working into the dough of the earth and how it is growing and expanding.
The parable of the lost sheep is about how God’s Reign is presently seeking and searching after the lost person.
The parable of the lost coin is about how God’s Reign is presently seeking to find a person who has been lost and then celebrating when he is found.
There are more parables- the Good Samaritan, the Ten Virgins, the Two Debtors, the Unjust Judge, and so on- and in each and every instance Jesus is describing the present reality of the in-breaking Reign of God/Reign of Heaven on earth. In essence, this is what our present reality looks like when God’s reign breaks forth on earth…and this is what our lives look like when we presently welcome God’s reign in our lives.
The implications of this are utterly profound. God’s reign on earth has been initiated. The Reign of God has come close and continues to break into our lives in power. The veil that separates the dimension of God and our dimension is being pierced and God’s reign and rule is flooding the earth. God’s reign is invading earth presently through our lives and is rushing with full force until His reign is fully and completely manifested on earth. The union of heaven and earth is continuing until it reaches its full consummation. Your Kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The two are gloriously becoming one as God’s Reign fills the cosmos.
The Kingdom of Heaven is not a future destination for a disembodied soul. The Kingdom of Heaven is the present in-breaking of God’s reign on earth, pouring in until it reaches its full measure upon His triumphant return. It is then when heaven and earth will be one again.
Here is the next post…