Thoughts on the Kingdom of Heaven:Completion of the Kingdom

We can experience much of the kingdom of heaven in this life but its final establishment comes with Christ’s return to earth and the eternal actualization of it in heaven. In Matthew chapter 25 Jesus told the Parable of the Ten Virgins. It begins, “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom” (Matthew 25:1, NIV). Later in that chapter we learn the fearsome fate of those who are not faithful to Christ in this life. However, among the terrible fates of the unfaithful we see these words. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34, NIV).

While Jesus was speaking to people at the house of Zacchaeus the tax collector he told them a parable involving a departing nobleman and ten servants given ten minas each. “While they were listening to this [his words concerning Zacchaeus], he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once” (Luke 19:11, NIV). In this parable we are told again we must be faithful servants as we wait for the final establishment of the kingdom of God.

The images of final condition of the faithful always include pleasures. Jesus told the apostles at the Last Supper, “For I tell you, I will not eat it [the Passover meal] again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:16-18, see also Matthew 26:29 and Mark 14:24-25, NIV). Jesus also told the apostles, “You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:28-30, NIV).

There are people other than the apostles who are told they will be part of the kingdom of God. The repentant thief said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:42-43, NIV). Paul, in the fourth chapter of his second letter to Timothy, wrote at the beginning of his charge to Timothy to minister faithfully “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge.” Paul then expressed, at the end of his instructions to Timothy, his faith that he would be brought to the kingdom of heaven. “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:18, NIV).

It is not only leaders in the church who are promised entry to the kingdom of God. James wrote to ordinary Christians “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5, NIV). Peter also wrote similarly to his brothers and sisters in Christ “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:10-11, NIV). Jews who had converted to Christianity also had a place in the kingdom of God. Paul wrote about some of them “These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me” (Colossians 4:11, NIV).

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What I Believe: Eschatology

Eschatology is the study of the “end times.” There are many opinions about the end times. For myself, I think the world entered the end times with the Incarnation of Jesus. At that time a new reality of human history began and everything that has happened since and will happen until history is long past is founded on that event.

If my thinking about the end times is right, the whole Christian period on earth is part of the end times and all that is in Scripture concerning this period may apply to us or to Christians who have come before us, and after us. The four gospels and the Book of Acts tell us the history of the beginnings of Christianity. The book of Revelation tells us the rest of the story. It is a very complex book because that is the way history is. Another difficulty is that we cannot know where we are on the time-line if there is one. A third problem arises from the fact that John had to describe spiritual entities in terms of physical images.

All in all, I believe the end times we live in are complex mixture of physical and spiritual events of which most occur outside the realm of our human understanding unless their meaning is revealed to us by God.

What I Believe: Created Spirits

The Bible mentions a wide variety of created spirits. One problem we have in knowing more about spiritual creatures is that the writers of Scripture had to use physical categories to describe spiritual realities. Another, more actual, problem is that we normally have little experience with spiritual creatures and so when we may think we are in the presence of angels of light they may actually be demons.

One defining characteristic of Satan and his minions is that they are liars. This is why it is so important in our thinking about spiritual creatures and events to seek only to know what is true because truth only comes from God.

There is a fundamental division between those created spirits who have chosen to serve God and those who choose to follow Satan. The lower ranks of those who follow Satan we call demons. The New Testament also tells us of powerful beings, apparently produced by Satan, that are described as frogs, dragons, two beasts, a false prophet, and a reigning prostitute.

On God’s side, in addition to angels, there are archangels, elders and seraphim. Angels act as God’s messengers. Archangels also act to bring God’s messages to people. They also have a role in the destiny of nations and wage war against the satanic spirits. The elders lead worship in heaven and may have other roles. The seraphim, with their multitude of eyes, appear to have the job of overseeing God’s physical creation.

On earth, I believe we are in the midst of a vast spiritual warfare. Satan’s intent is not just to cause problems for people but to bring physical and spiritual death to as many humans as he can. Were it not for the purpose of the Father, the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and the obedience to God of the angels we all, without exception, would be doomed to eternal death.

What I Believe: Work of the Holy Spirit

The work of the Holy Spirit moves in two directions. It proceeds from the Father and Son towards creation and humanity and from Christians to the Father and the Son as he acts as an advocate for our needs. I do not believe that the work of the Holy Spirit is under our control. God, in each of the persons, does what it is that is his intention. It is better that we align ourselves with that intention rather than try to persuade the Holy Spirit, or any of the other two, to do what we would like happen.

The Bible is a work of the Holy Spirit. Our redemption is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, I believe, also shapes human culture and history by influencing the thoughts and actions of different people, believers and nonbelievers, at various times and places to fulfill the purposes of the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit is active now and can be seen by faith as he works in our persons, faithful churches and our world. I believe that the present works of the Holy Spirit can be experienced by Christians though an internal assurance of his presence in our beings and recognition of  his work in shaping events around us.

What I Believe: The Holy Spirit

Pneumatology is the study of the Holy Spirit. It might also be defined, if we take on the mood of the writer of Ecclesiastes, as a chasing of the wind. However, there is much written about the Holy Spirit in Scripture to help us understand the nature and role of this third person of the Trinity. Despite all the information, we still do not seem to be given a concrete image for our minds except that of, occasionally, a dove.

The word Holy signifies that the Holy Spirit is divine. The words used in the original languages for Spirit have various meanings and always refer to something invisible. Some of these meanings are wind, life, energy or power. All of these meanings designate something outside human control or capture. In other words, the Holy Spirit goes where he will and does what he chooses as far as our wills are concerned, just as the other persons of the Trinity do. At the same time, just as the Son serves the purposes of the Father so the Holy Spirit moves to shape creation, history and people to the will of the Father and Son.

What I Believe: The Story

The Bible tells, in sixty-six books, the story of God’s relationship to humanity. The story begins before the creation of the earth and ends in eternal blessedness for those people whom he has redeemed. There are three major themes that continue throughout the story. These are God’s creation of all that exists, the disobedience of the first humans and the consequences of that for all of physical reality, and God’s work to make right (redeem) according to his purposes all that has gone wrong. Redemption is a long and complex project and, I believe, cannot be finished in the framework of our present reality.

What I Believe: General Revelation

Modern people think that they know how everything works and do not find God in any of it. Post-moderns do not care how anything works—as long as the battery is charged. Both philosophies discard any idea of general revelation, which is God showing his power and nature to humanity.

 

I believe that God’s reveals his existence and purposes in such things as physical reality, history, and human nature. Paul wrote that nobody had any excuse for not acknowledging the existence of God because of what was revealed to us in his creation of physical reality. The Old Testament shows God working in human history to show us what we are to do collectively as members of nations. God reveals his framework for human communities by providing everyone (with a few possible exceptions) a sense of right and wrong.

 

Any or all of these three aspects of general revelation can be denied or ignored by individuals and/or societies. Proverbs 1:20-33 describes this very situation. Wisdom (God’s voice) calls out in public places and is rejected by people given various derogatory names by the writer of Proverbs. These will suffer great harm because of their foolishness. At the end of the passage, a blessing is pronounced on those who listen.

 

Sometime time ago Time magazine had a cover which asked the question, “Is God Dead?” The April 3, 2017 issue asks “Is Truth Dead?” I believe there is an inevitable trajectory between those two issues. A society that pushes God away cannot maintain its hold on truth. After all Jesus told us that he is truth and people who reject him are not only turning against him but all the blessings that come with belief in him.

 

General revelation is a great blessing to humanity but it is not sufficient to bring people to righteousness. People are given the ability to blind themselves to any learning from general revelation and to make their selves deaf to the voice of God, which is one aspect of special revelation. The possession of these abilities does not excuse them for making use of them to refuse to seek and obey God.