When you hear the word “heaven,” what comes to mind? It seems in today’s culture we have created a general association with dazzling light above the clouds, perhaps with a stairway leading to it, a gate at its entrance, and/or some angels playing harps. While some of these ideas are based on biblical references to the eternal dwelling place in the glorious Presence of God, heaven may be closer to us than we realize.
I’ve been thinking of Jesus’ teachings about “the kingdom of heaven” as what occurs on earth, or at least begins here. The phrase is used repeatedly throughout the Gospel of Matthew, from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Matthew 4:17 states:
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
In this opening call, Jesus uses the word “near” rather than “here,” even though his later illustrations were in the present tense. It seems Jesus’ ministry is the very cusp of the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven. He was the one to usher it in, with its full culmination only possible through his death and resurrection, which open the very doors of heaven. Because of redemption through Christ we can approach God directly; indeed his very presence can inhabit us through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is the bridge that allowed heaven and earth to meet. His kingdom is built through the lives of those who welcome the Presence of the King into their hearts. We enter his kingdom when accepting his reign over us. That means being part of his kingdom while still here on earth!
Yet how often we reject those opportunities! Instead of entering God’s kingdom, we focus on building our own: our comfort, our success, our reputation, our acceptance. Our miniature kingdoms will, at their best, only last our relatively short life-times. They often crumble under the pressure found in the suffering and sin around us.
The kingdom of heaven will last for eternity. Why do we invest so much of our time and resources in these short, temporary lives when we could be living for eternal purposes?
Perhaps our need for more specific direction is why Jesus spent more time talking about his kingdom than any other topic! I’m hoping you will join me as I continue to explore what living in his kingdom can and/or should look like!
But the first question we must consider goes back to our willingness to surrender—to give up our own kingdoms for the sake of his kingdom. Are you willing to do that daily?