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).