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.
“I think therefore I am” is a famous saying. It would have been better, I think, to say, “I am therefore I think.” The reason for this is that I am going to consider two levels of consciousness. I will begin with a very basic definition that applies to everything that has sentient life. All these forms of life have the ability to react to their internal functions and external environments and then act appropriately. As animal life forms became more complex their consciousness increased to match their growing ability to perform various functions. Up until the creation of humans all consciousness was a biochemical-electromagnetic phenomena.
We are told of the coming of a different level of consciousness in Genesis 1:27 where we are told that God created humans in his own image. There is a difficulty here. What is meant by image? It cannot be anything physical about humans. At the time of human creation God had not taken on any physical characteristics. The three persons of the Trinity were pure spirits and people he created were formed from the dust of the earth. How could we and God share any common image? It must be that God added to the biochemical-electromagnetic consciousness that all animals have. This addition must have been portions of his infinite consciousness.
For these two levels to work together God’s consciousness must be compatible with that of humans. I think I can show they seamlessly fit together by pointing you to the person of Jesus Christ. He had a human consciousness and a fully divine consciousness but there no evident separation when he performed miracles. He would be talking to people, do a supernatural act, and then continue to talk as if nothing spectacular had happened. When he did pray before a miracle it was not that he needed to but that he needed to show people he was one with his Father.
Our two levels of consciousness make it possible for us to think and experience on both physical and spiritual levels. Since neither science nor theology have complete understandings of either level, I think we should just be thankful for what we have and be glad that God shared enough from his infinite consciousness so that we could come to know him and believe in his Son.
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.