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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.