The Kingdom of Heaven
Have we lost the true message of Jesus?
To truly understand Jesus, we must comprehend the primary motif of His life: The Kingdom of Heaven. Suprisingly, this primary emphasis of Jesus minsitry is severly misunderstood.
Jesus operated fully within the Hebrew matrix, language and people of His day. He dressed, ate, drank, worshipped, and lived as a Jew.
The Hebrew way of talking about the Lord was a deep reverence for the Name of God given by Himself to Moses at Mt. Sinai. Jews would held the Name in such high regard that they refused to say it, which developed "circumlocutions:" substitute words that every Jew knew meant the holy Name.
One of these end around ways of saying the Name was to use the word for "heaven." We see and example of this in the parable of the prodigal son, where, upon confessing his sin, the prodigal says to his father, "I have sinned against you and against heaven."
For many years, even some of the brightest scholars have confused the scripture on this point, believing the word heaven used as such to be referring to some place where God dwelt.
Instead, we ought to understand it as merely another way of saying the Name of God.
So what is the kingdom of Heaven, anway?
If you use a concordance to find the phrase "the kingdom of heaven" (or kingdom of God) anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, we find a suprising number of results: zero.
Importantly, Jesus did not make this term up. We do know that "the kingdom of Heaven" was a highly developed term at this time in Jesus' life. Israel's sages used the term often to describe the ruling, saving, liberating, redemptive acts of God.
For example, according to Israel's teachers, the first instance of the kingdom of God in the Hebrew scriptures was in the book of Exodus, in the "Song of Moses" where Israel is celebrating on of the definitive events of their history: the rescue from the harsh bondage of Egypt.
The Song opens:
"Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying, “I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him..." (vss. 1-2)
The LORD had "become their salvation" in that final rescuing act of demolishing Pharoah's army in the Red Sea. At the end of the song...
"You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established. The LORD will reign forever and ever.” (vss. 17-18)
The verb "to reign" used here the verb form of the noun used for "king."
Concisely then, the "kingdom of heaven" was God breaking into the world with a redemptive, saving act.
Jesus took this well known term and made it His own, proclaiming that the "kingdom of heaven is at hand" at the initiation of His public life and ministry. "At hand" was just a way of saying, it's here.
The Kingdom of Heaven is Now.
Why did Jesus make the claim that the kingdom of heaven had arrived?
The primary answer is that the King-Messiah had arrived in the person of Himself. Since the King was here, the kingdom was here.
But Jesus didn't just proclaim the kingdom's arrival...
Explaining the Kingdom of Heaven
Jesus used this phrase also to describe those who were a committed part of His movement. In the opening of that passage we call "The Sermon on the Mount," Jesus said,
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven."
In other words, to be a part of the kingdom of God on was required a certain humility ("poor in spirit").
Jesus went on use the term many times over in this core body of His teaching to describe a way of living for those in His movement:
"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33)
The kindom of God (heaven) was of utmost importance in setting priorities. Jesus went on to use "the kingdom of God" in his teaching about prayer (Matthew 6:10), persecution (Matthew 5:10) and obedience to God's word (Matthew 5:19).
Illustrating the Kingdom of Heaven
Jesus used another unique cultural device found only in Jewish literature and the Bible: Parables.
To explain the nature of His movement, he compared to
- a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31)
- leaven (Matthew 13:33)
- planting seed (Matthew 13:24)
- a treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44)
- a fishing net (Matthew 13:47)
- and several others...
Demonstrating the Kingdom
The most dramatic communication of the Kingdom comes through Jesus acts of healing, rescuing from demonic oppression, etc. For example, upon casting out one demon, Jesus said,
"But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." (Luke 11:20)
By rescuing this a man from the horrors of demonic oppression, Jesus said the kingdom had broken in upon that man at that moment. Jesus would go on to perform many other acts of redemption and healing to show that the Kingdom had arrived on earth.
Of course, by means of His death on the cross and victorious resurrection he would provide the ultimate means of healing, redemption and restoration for those wishing to become a part of the Kingdom of Heaven.
This raises a whole new set of questions for those desiring to follow Jesus. Have we lost the true message of Jesus? If the core motif of Jesus ministry was the kingdom of Heaven, why do we talk about it so little?
Continue to part 2 of this article: Implications of the Kingdom of Heaven for Today