Luke tells us (Luke 16:16, NIV) that, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it.” This verse is among a collection of sayings and parables that Jesus taught in regard to the defective religious understandings of the Pharisees. It does not seem to tell us that the kingdom of God had actually arrived at that time but that the ordinary people were eager for the new religious ideas being proclaimed by Jesus. In fact, “faith” rather than “forcing” seems the right approach to entering the kingdom. Jesus’ words seem to show that not only the Pharisees but the common people had wrong ideas about what was meant by a place in the kingdom.
In another place (Matthew 23:13, NIV), we find among the seven woes that Jesus pronounced regarding the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees these words, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” People’s interest in the kingdom of heaven was being actively opposed by respectable religious groups.
There is another obstacle to entering the kingdom of God—wealth. In Mark 10:23-25 (NIV) we are told, “Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’” The same teaching is recorded in Matthew 19:23-24 and Luke 18:24-25 (NIV). No matter how we interpret the camel and the eye of the needle it is clear that Jesus taught that wealth constituted a difficulty when it came to entering the kingdom of God.
In 1 John 2:16 we are warned against the love of the world and the craving for things that John calls “the lust of the eyes” (NIV). Seemingly this is the explanation for the severe words of Jesus, “And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’” (Mark 9:47-48, NIV)
Paul tells us in three places that various forms of immorality not just create difficulties in regard to entering the kingdom of God they make it impossible for those who practice them to do so. “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Ephesians 5:5, NIV). In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NIV) we have a description of some of the forms of immorality that bar people from the kingdom of God. “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21 (NIV) provides another list of behaviors that keep people out of the kingdom of God. “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
I thought I needed to do a new profile to share with people who might be interested in learning a little about me.
When I left my childhood Christianity I became a slave of three evil masters: my own fallen nature, the temptations of our world, and the onslaughts of Satan. However, through the grace of God and the work of the Holy Trinity in me, I have found freedom from most of my former slavery and a will to seek to do, with God’s help, what is good for me and others. “Through it all,” God has been faithful to His promises and carried me through many bad experiences for which I have been responsible, most of the time.
It has been a long and twisting path to get me where I am now, eighty-six years old and living in a retirement community. My wife of forty-seven years and I have lived in two countries, three states, ten cities and a number of houses and apartments. In these places we have been associated with large variety of Christians from different denominational and theological backgrounds. We are finding quite a number of Christians here in Clemson, South Carolina, USA, of more varieties and in more places than I can list.
I am also finding Christians over most of the world through my WordPress blog. I think it a great privilege to have the opportunity to be in contact with people who use the Internet to reach out to the vast nebulous community of those who know Christ.
There are people other than the enemies of Jesus who will be excluded from the kingdom of God. The concept of the kingdom of heaven can attract false prophets as Jesus taught his disciples. This warning is recorded in the seventh chapter of Matthew along with other teachings concerning how his followers were to think and do. In regard to those who spoke of him without obeying him Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21, NIV).
Later in Matthew we learn that people who were supposed to be in the kingdom of heaven because they were Jews would not necessarily measure up to the admission requirements but because of their lack of faith in Jesus would be excluded. “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:11-12 and Luke 13:28-29, NIV). In Matthew 21:43 (NIV) we read that Jesus told the chief priests and Pharisees, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”
The first twenty-three verses of the thirteenth chapter of Matthew contain what is called the Parable of the Sower. The parable and Jesus’ explanation of it to the disciples tell us three ways that people who are able to enter the kingdom of heaven because they have received instruction concerning it exclude themselves from it. The first method is from lack of understanding. “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path” (Matthew 13:19, NIV).
The second way people exclude themselves from the kingdom of heaven is to accept the news of the kingdom eagerly but then fall away when trouble or persecution comes. This, in the parable, is the seed that lands on rocky soil. People also exclude themselves when they receive the news of the kingdom but allow worries and the deceit of wealth to keep them from living in it. Or, as the parable puts it, their seed lands among thorny plants and is choked out.
There are also people who will appear to be of the kingdom of heaven until the end of the age. This is how Jesus began telling about it. “Jesus told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field’” (Matthew 13:24, NIV). It is called The Parable of the Weeds in the NIV. Let’s look at how Jesus explained the parable.
“The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Matthew 13:38-43, NIV).
Jesus began another parable by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son” (Matthew 22:2, NIV). As the parable continues, we find that the invitees refuse to come when first told the banquet is ready. Their rejection is even more vigorous when they get the second notice. Some of the invitees ostentatiously follow their own interests, others mistreat and kill the messengers. So an invitation goes out to people in general, both good and bad, so that the wedding hall is filled with people enjoying good food and drink. We would be happy if the parable ended here but it does not. The king finds one guest not wearing wedding clothes. When asked about it, the man has no answer and so is thrown out of the banquet and into the darkness. The parable ends with these difficult words of Jesus, “For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14, NIV).
Although believers were still waiting during Jesus’ ministry for the kingdom of God to arrive, the kingdom was already present for those who opposed Jesus. When Jesus was in conflict with the Pharisees, we are told, “Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you’” (Matthew 12:25-28, NIV). Also, “But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20, NIV).
For those enemies of Jesus who sought to discredit his person, ministry and message, the kingdom had already arrived. There was nothing further in it for them other than their condemnation.
As G.K. Beale wrote in his commentary on the book of Revelation (G.K. Beale, NIGTC, The Book of Revelation, p. 67). “After all, Jesus inaugurated his messianic reign in the midst of his own suffering during his earthly ministry.”
The kingdom of God was already in conflict, not only with the people who were rejecting it but with an evil spiritual kingdom. The passage from Matthew shows us there are two spiritual kingdoms contending for human souls. One is of Satan and the other is from God.
When Jesus spoke the Beatitudes, they were blessings for a future time but not a time in the distant future. They would become available to those who were listening to him and practicing them would bring them into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, NIV) and “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10, NIV). Later, in three different Gospels we have Jesus’ promise to believers living then that they would see the coming of the kingdom of God. “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28, and also Mark 9:1, Luke 9:27, NIV).
When Jesus instructed his disciples as to the form of their prayers he said, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’” (Matthew 6:9-10, NIV) or more concisely in Luke 11:2 (NIV), “He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.’” The prayer for the coming of the kingdom was like the petitions for daily bread, forgiveness of debts, freedom from temptation, and deliverance from the evil one. In short, it was a plea for help at that moment and the presence of the kingdom of heaven is an immediate need, like all the others.
Before there could be a kingdom of God, there had to be a king. This coming king was anticipated throughout the Old Testament. This did not actually keep the announcement of the arrival of the king given to Mary by the angel Gabriel from being a surprise. Mary, a virgin was told, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:31-33, New International Version [NIV]).
All of this had been foretold but more had to happen than just the birth of a king. People had to be persuaded the kingdom of God had come near to them in their place and time. Later they would have to be kept from thinking the kingdom is a physical kingdom; a kingdom that would fulfill all their fantasies concerning a life of peace and prosperity. This new kingdom that was coming would of necessity mean bad times for the people’s Jewish and Roman overlords. The overlords were not thrilled when they heard about it.
When the time came for the kingdom of God to be announced, it was said by both John the Baptist and Jesus that the near arrival of the kingdom required personal repentance on the part of those who would enter it when it arrived. John and Jesus both preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:1-2 and Matthew 4:17, NIV). The ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus were directed at preparing people to enter the kingdom. Jesus also made it clear that now was the time to prepare to enter the kingdom. He said, “The time has come,” and “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15, NIV).
These sayings of John and Jesus raise two questions for us. The first is what they meant when they told the people who heard them that the kingdom had come near. The second is why Matthew uses the term kingdom of heaven while Mark calls it the kingdom of God. Theopedia.com tells us “While Matthew primarily uses the term “kingdom of heaven” and other gospel writers (notably Luke) use the term “kingdom of God,” it is clear that these two expressions mean exactly the same thing (e.g. compare Matt. 5:3 with Luke 6:20).”
I suspect that the reason for the difference in the terms used for Jesus’ kingdom turns on the matter of sedition. Sedition is the crime of saying, writing, or doing something that encourages people to disobey their government. The Jewish people at the time of Jesus’ ministry and early in the history of the church tended either to be guilty of sedition or very fearful of being charged with sedition. Sedition was, in fact, the crime Jesus was charged with before Pilate. So the term kingdom of heaven was probably a better one to use than kingdom of God when writing to a Jewish readership, as seems the case with Matthew. Heaven was probably a safer choice. Also, kingdom of God would allow people to raise the uncomfortable issue of which god was meant, the Jewish deity or the Roman Emperor.
The other problem in these sayings is why both John and Jesus say that the kingdom is near. What does “near” mean? If the kingdom came with Jesus, why wasn’t it present then? To see why the kingdom was not yet present, I think we again need to look at the matter of sedition. Some of the Jews were eager for a messianic kingdom. Jesus even had to keep one crowd that was listening to him from seizing him and proclaiming him king (John 6:15). What “near” seems to say is that the kingdom of God will, in the near future, be available to all those there at that time who were willing to repent of their sins.
When Jesus sent out the Twelve “he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick (Luke 9:1-2, NIV).
The healing of the sick and the exorcisms of demons were not the full meaning of the kingdom of God but only a sign of its possibilities. Thus we are told, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23, and also Luke 9:10-11, NIV).
We can more clearly see that the kingdom of God was only “near” during Jesus’ ministry to the multitudes when we read that after Jesus died on the cross, “Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body” (Mark 15:43, see also Luke 23:51, NIV). The fact that Joseph of Arimathea was still waiting for the kingdom of God even though he had sufficient faith in the person of Jesus to risk the consequences of going to Pilate and requesting Jesus’ body shows us that even the most believing people of the time had not yet entered the kingdom of God. Yet, we can see that the death of Jesus did not shake Joseph’s faith in a coming kingdom ruled by Christ. The kingdom was near but not yet there for those who believed in Jesus.
The kingdom of God, or the equivalent kingdom of heaven, describe the spiritual reign of Christ that began with his incarnation, was prepared for by his ministry on earth, including his teaching, death and resurrection, and became actualized on the Day of Pentecost. The kingdom of God encompasses all people who have been forgiven of their sins (made righteous before God the Father) through faith that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God. It includes both those who are now alive and those that “sleep” in Christ. It is thus expresses the rule of Christ both on earth and in heaven.
The purpose of this series of posts is to show the present and very useful reality of the kingdom of God.
My form of the cosmological argument for the existence of God would be as follows.
The universe did not exist and then came into existence but not in its present form. It came as a complex amalgamation of energy, space and time governed by rules governing its development, including those for entities that did not yet exist.
The universe is teleological. It was created to become what it is and to serve as a platform for what has occurred. To do these things it neither needed to be infinite as space or eternal in time to accomplish what was intended for it.
Due to the immense complexity and, if you will still existing mystery concerning the universe, nothing in space, time, energy, matter and the laws governing these things is sufficient in itself to explain the existence of the universe.
Therefore, the existence of the universe requires a Creator who must have an existence outside the universe, though not excluded from acting on it and in it, the ability to foresee and direct what it is to become, and when it will end, and the power to make it happen.
We are told in many places and in many ways that Christians are one in the Holy Spirit. None the less I am a pragmatist. That is a person who when he or she sees a “Wet Paint” sign wants to determine the truth of the matter by touching the painted surface. How can this tendency work in spiritual matters? I think I have found an example.
When I started this “What I Believe” series of posts it was to provide me motivation to work on a personal project. That project was for me to examine what I did believe as a Christian. The framework was a statement of doctrine prepared by a candidate for ordination as a minister. The series has been good for me and the “what I believe” posts, not surprisingly, have had a mixed acceptance among those who chose to view them.
What did surprise me was the wide personal and geographical range of viewers who responded to my posts. There were people of different ages, different nationalities, and different understandings of Christianity. The only thing all of us share is our common humanity and our redemption in Christ. That leads me to believe that what I found in connecting with these viewers, in addition to an intense wonder that I should be so honored to share a small part of their lives, was a real sense of our unity in the Holy Spirit.
There is a song that has the words “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord…” and I think I have found the truth of that. Thank you all for that blessing.