It seems to me that for a long time, many of us who have been following Jesus have had an inaccurate understanding of Jesus’ use of the term “Kingdom of Heaven”. Some, despite being in the Church for years, do not even understand what the phrase means. Whether the cause or the effect, there are some popular yet unbiblical teachings, and common ways of thinking, that have their foundation in this incorrect understanding. It is not the purpose of this very brief article to highlight those teachings and ways of thinking, but rather to point out Jesus’ own perspective, and hence the truly biblical perspective of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God
Let me begin by first explaining the biblical phrase “Kingdom of Heaven”. Depending on the Bible version, this phrase is found 32 times in the Gospel of Matthew (33 times in the NKJV). The similar term, “Kingdom of God” is found over 53 times throughout all the Gospels. In every case, the phrase speaks of God’s rule/reign and authority. The word Heaven, in the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” speaks of the place from which God’s rule and authority originate, namely Heaven, where God’s throne is located.
In the World, but not of the World.
When Jesus tells Pontius Pilate, “My Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), Jesus is only speaking of the origin of His kingdom. He’s not implying or conceding any lack of jurisdiction, authority or power in this world. He is only speaking of the center or source of His authority, and not the manifestation of that authority. This is consistent with how Jesus only a little while earlier prayed for his disciples (and us) saying, “I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do.” (John 17:13-16)
This understanding is very important because many of us have been wrongly trained to think that we’re just waiting and working here in order to get to the Kingdom in Heaven, some day in the future, because that is where Jesus went to sit at the Father’s right hand. That is precisely the opposite of what the Bible teaches. If our final destination is Heaven where Jesus is currently seated at the right hand of the Father, then what is the point of Jesus not asking for us to be taken out of the world, but praying to keep us safe from the evil one while we are here?
It’s not the Children of the Kingdom that are going to be evicted from the Kingdom.
This wrong but common perspective is so ingrained in us that it often causes us to read things into the Scriptures without our even realizing it. For example, regarding Jesus’ parable of the wheat and weeds (or tares in some versions), how many of us have thought that the wheat being gathered into the Lord’s “barn” meant being taken to Heaven? (Matthew 13:24-30 )
But when we read Jesus’ explanation of the parable to His disciples, we get an entirely different picture:
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the Kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his Kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!” – Matthew 13:36-43
The Kingdom of God has indeed come to this world and it’s not going anywhere. This has important implications because what we do here matters much more than just winning souls, as important as that is. Jesus Christ is not merely redeeming souls, He’s redeeming the whole world and everything in it, including its systems, to Himself. He’s doing it through the children of the Kingdom (that is the Church). This is why Jesus teaches us to pray along the lines of “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
While so much more could be said about this (and perhaps will be in future articles), I hope this brief piece has whet your appetite and challenges you to study the Scriptures keeping Jesus’ perspective of His Kingdom in mind. That is what I am doing. I also invite and encourage you to search the Scriptures yourself to see if these things are so.
May the Lord richly bless you in all things.