What Is the Kingdom of Heaven?

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Matthew 5:1-12

Often, we read the Beatitudes as a list of commandments. We think that Jesus is telling us, “Be meek!” and “Be merciful!” When we read the Beatitudes like this, we become depressed.

“I am not meek,” we think. “I am not merciful. I must repent!”

But this passage of scripture is not about us. This scripture is about God.

First, we learn that God does not like crowds. The scripture says, “when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside.” When Jesus saw the crowd, he turned away from them. Human beings like crowds. We want other people to appreciate us and cheer for us.

But God does not want this.

Jesus also does this in the gospel of John when a crowd is trying to make him King and declare him a prophet. He leaves the crowd and withdraws to a mountain. Even though the crowd wants to raise him up, Jesus leaves them.

God does not like large crowds. He also does not like large armies.

When Gideon went to war against the Midianites, God told him that he had too many soldiers. God would only allow Gideon to fight with three hundred men.

When he sees the crowd, Jesus goes up into the mountains. To be with Christ, we must follow him up into the mountains. Humans sometimes think that God must be drawn to crowds. But this scripture teaches us that God goes into the mountains—we must come to him.

In movies, Jesus stands in front of a large crowd. He shouts the Beatitudes so that the entire crowd can hear him. But in the scripture, Jesus sits down and speaks. He does not shout.

Jesus talks with the crowd about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Where is heaven? There are three popular answers to this question and all three answers are wrong. People say that heaven is “up there”, or “in the future” (i.e. “I’m going to heaven when I die), or “completely invisible.” Usually, when people describe something in this way, they are describing something that they made up.

Why would we risk our lives for something imaginary?

We must turn to the Nicene Creed to discover what heaven is. The Nicene Creed says, “we believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.” Many people think that the Nicene Creed is repeating itself when it says “heaven and earth” and “seen and unseen.” “Everything in heaven is unseen,” we think, “and everything on earth is seen.” But every word in the Nicene Creed was carefully chosen. The Nicene Creed does not repeat itself.

Not everything in heaven is unseen. Jesus, for example, is in heaven, but he is visible. Visibility is proper to the nature of a human being, just like being wet is proper to the nature of water. Because Jesus is fully man—he has two distinct natures: man and God—he is also fully visible. When Jesus dies and is resurrected, he does not abandon his human nature; he redeems it. Because of this, Jesus is visible and Jesus exists in heaven. Therefore, there are some visible things in heaven.

Likewise, not everything on earth is seen. For example, we know that Satan and one-third of God’s angels were thrown out of heaven and are forced to reside on earth. These angels are not visible, but they are on Earth. Therefore, some invisible things exist on earth.

When Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven, then, he is not talking about an invisible place or a place that exists high up in the sky. He is also not talking about a kingdom that will come in the future. Often, we feel that God must exist separately from the world because the world we see is filled with suffering, starvation, and illness. When we think this way, we conclude that the Kingdom of Heaven is not on Earth. We conclude that the Kingdom of Heaven is a world that will only exist in the future. But this way of thinking is done from our perspective out; we must examine the scripture to see if the Kingdom of Heaven is actually limited to being a future event.

In the scripture, Jesus turns away from many crowds. But where did these people come from? At this time in the scripture, Jesus was in Galilee. He was telling everyone to repent because the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. At hand means “at present” or “within reach.” So when Jesus says, “blessed are the poor in spirit,” he is not saying, “the poor in spirit will be blessed.” He is saying that God is blessing the poor in spirit right now.

Jesus does not call the Kingdom of Heaven invisible or upcoming. He refers to the Kingdom of Heaven as existing today. This is because the Kingdom of Heaven is not an invisible reality; it consists of all that submit to his reign, visible and invisible, in heaven and on earth.

God created heaven and earth. He created human beings to mirror God and reign in his image on earth. When human beings fell, they began to lead earth astray. This is an important insight for two reasons:

1) Many Christians mistakenly believe that the physical world is a temporary trap for spiritual beings, but this is a gnostic belief, not a Christian one. The Gnostics believed that the physical world was evil and that the spiritual world was pure. The Christian does not believe this. The Christian believes that God made the physical world to reflect himself, too. Jesus is not trying to free the earth from being physical; he is making God’s reign visible on earth so that it may be welcomed.

2) Many Christians mistakenly believe that the Kingdom of God is the same thing as the church, but the Kingdom of Heaven contains more than human beings. Scripture says that all of creation is groaning and longs for Christ’s reign. All of creation belongs in the Kingdom of Heaven. Dogs, trees, grass—all were created by God’s own hand and participate in the Kingdom of Heaven. Nature wants to welcome God, but is frustrated in its worship by the Fall. This is evident in scripture where nature continually bends to the will of God. The rivers become blood for God, the stars fall for him, and the storms calm at Jesus’ voice. Nature longs for God; we human beings are the broken piece.

If Jesus was proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was invisible or upcoming or somewhere other than here, he would be a very bad king, indeed. But his kingdom is visible and his kingdom is now and his kingdom is among us. His kingdom consists of more than human beings, for the Kingdom exists anywhere that Christ’s reign is welcomed.

 

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Jesus: The Heaviest Weight in the World: Doing Matthew 4:12-23

Before reading this post on doing Matthew 4:12-23, please make sure to read our post on hearing Matthew 4:12-23. You can also see a quick overview of our DOTW Bible study method.

What action does God take in Matthew 4:12-23 toward others?

In this one passage of Scripture, Jesus performs many actions. Right away in verse 12 Jesus withdrew to Galilee. Far from being an insignificant detail, Jesus withdrew in order to fulfill an epoch-turning prophecy, signaling the arrival of the kingdom (link to summary blog post). In fulfillment of this he also dwells in Capernaum in verse 13. Jesus is also seen walking in verse 18. God the Son fulfills prophecy with actions that almost no one noticed. Just as with the burning bush, which could easily have been passed by, major fulfillment of prophecy happens in the most subtle ways. That is the character of God, as reflected in his actions. He is hardly ever obvious, and we should not expect him to be so in our own lives.

There are several actions in which Jesus takes towards others.  We see Jesus preaching (vs. 17), calling to James and John (vs. 21), teaching, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing (vs. 23). These show that it is the nature of God to interact personally, individually, directly. This is not a God who saves his best work for big crowds.

What action does God call me to take toward God? Toward others?

There are two very clear commands that Jesus gives in this passage of Scripture.

In verse 19, Jesus tells Simon and Andrew to “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” In the scripture from John last week, disciples asked to followed Jesus. But here Jesus commands them to follow him. There is a world of difference between us following Jesus, and Jesus calling us to follow him. Our own interest is never enough to sustain discipleship. We do well to ask him to call us. This is a prayer he will always answer, not only for the twelve (as can be seen in Luke 9:57-62), but for us, too. Only his call to discipleship can sustain us.

Right before that, Jesus preaches, “repent” in verse 17. This message of repentance was given throughout Galilee as he taught in the synagogues (vs. 23). Jesus command to repent is not the first time we see this in the gospel of Matthew, though.  John the Baptist gives the exact same command in the wilderness of Judea in Matthew 3:1. The difference is that this time the call is not given by the messenger who prepares the way for the king but instead by the king himself, after the messenger has been silenced.

That same message would be continued by the disciples. Jesus sent them out two by two in Mark 6:1-13, and in verse 12 it says that their message was “that people should repent.” Peter continues this same message even after Jesus’ death and resurrection saying,

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

Finally, Jesus himself is still giving the same message. In Revelation 3:19, he tells the church of Laodicea to be zealous and repent.

What actions did I take? Or, what actions will I take?

It might be tempting to rush through the application of this Scripture thinking that Christ’s commands to repent and follow only apply to new Christians or non-Christians.

But repentance should not be a one-time act. Instead, repentance is actually the Christian life! The great Christian reformer Martin Luther put it this way: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

Often in the lives of modern day believers, confession and repentance are relegated to private acts of prayer, only between the believer and God. But biblically we are called to confess and repent openly, in the presence of others who are praying for us and keeping us accountable. James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.” Repentance is a complete change in direction, understanding, and living. If we can do that privately, it’s likely not true repentance, or at least it’s pretty shallow! Likely, the thing holding us back is pride—and we need to repent of that, too.

Our family has instituted an almost daily family time of confession and repentance. We share our sins with each other and we pray to God in front of each other and ask for forgiveness. One of my family members (even one of the children) will then end our time with an assurance of forgiveness such as 1 John 1:8-9, which says,

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Repentance is something we should never outgrow. Just ask the church of Laodicea!

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Jesus: The Heaviest Weight in the World

To watch other Voice of the Martyrs videos, visit the Voice of the Martyrs Video Page!

Matthew 4:12-23

When Jesus returned from the desert, John was in prison. John had boldly told everyone that Herod had sinned by marrying his brother’s wife. Because John had challenged Herod, John had been arrested and imprisoned. Many people expected Jesus to challenge Herod, too. The Holy Spirit rested on Jesus. He had resisted the devil. Now, people thought, he would save John. But Jesus “withdrew” to Galilee.

Was Jesus running away? Was he hiding in his hometown?

Was Jesus, the Son of God, afraid of Herod?

Albert Einstein helps us resolve this dilemma.

In 1905, Einstein published the theory of relativity. This theory changed the way people viewed the world. Space and time began to be understood as a complex unit called “spacetime.” Our understanding of gravity changed because of “spacetime.”

Imagine that spacetime is a sheet.

When heavy objects are placed on the sheet, the sheet bends.

If a lighter object is placed on the sheet, it will be drawn to the heavier object that is already on the sheet.

If a heavier object is placed on the sheet, the object on the sheet will be drawn to this heavier object.

Jesus is like the heaviest weight on the sheet. Everything is drawn to him. Because we human beings are not the heavy weight, we must work to captivate others. We must use anger, politics, and weapons to obtain power. But he does not need to move—everything naturally comes to him.

The Bible only makes sense if we understand that God is the heaviest weight. If we think that kings or nations or natural forces are more powerful than God, scripture will confuse us. We will think that Jesus is running away from Herod in Matthew 4. But he is not running away. Herod is not the heaviest weight; Jesus is.

Matthew wrote this scripture to explain that Jesus was returning to Galilee to fulfill Isaiah 9. Since Jesus is the heaviest weight in the Bible, every scripture, including Isaiah 9, is drawn toward Jesus.

Isaiah 9 tells us that the Messiah’s work will begin in “the Land of Zebulon, the Land of Naphtali,” and this is where Galilee is located. Scripture shows us that even the Israelites did not regard these lands as valuable. King Solomon gives away twenty towns in this area to the King of Tyre.

These lands swarm with Gentiles. The region was often berated in Israel for its strange brew of races and gods. Through Isaiah, God prophesied that those in this land would be the first Israelites sent into captivity. The area is called a “land that sat in darkness.” But God also says that this land will “see a great light.”

It is here that God the Son chooses to begin his earthly ministry.

Because Jesus is the Word, he knows that this is what Isaiah 9 means. So when Jesus hears about John’s arrest, he knows his time is at hand. He also knows that his ministry must begin in Galilee. Therefore, withdraws there.

In last week’s gospel reading, three people came to Jesus and called him Lamb of God and Messiah.

This week, Jesus calls them. In fact, he commands them.

“Follow me,” he says.

And they follow him.

The heaviest weight in the world is Christ. All nations bow before him. All scripture rushes toward him. Everyone is drawn to him.

But if that is true, why isn’t everyone Christian?

Bending the knee to God and welcoming his reign are two different things. Everyone serves God’s will, whether they want to or not. But the Christian is the one who welcomes God’s will. Blaise Pascal captures this reality precisely when he writes:

[God] openly appear[s] to those who look for Him with all their heart, [but he] hid[es] from those who run from Him with all their heart. God governs human knowledge of His presence. He gives signs that are visible to those who search for Him, and yet invisible to those who are indifferent to Him. To those who wish to see, God gives sufficient light; to those who do not wish to see, He gives sufficient darkness.

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