Dear Church Family,
I don’t know about you, but for me this summer has been flying by! I’ve been challenged and encouraged by the Sermon on the Mount as we’ve worked through Matthew 5-6 in our Sunday sermon times. I hope you have too.
One phrase that comes up several times in the Sermon on the Mount is “the kingdom of heaven.” We find the phrase in 5:3, 10, 19. And we find the shorthand phrase “the kingdom” in 6:10, 33. We’ve talked about the phrase a few times together, and I thought I would return to it in this month’s article.
Jesus doesn’t spell out precisely what he means by the phrase “kingdom of heaven” in the Sermon on the Mount. And there’s been a lot of ink spilled about what Jesus means by the phrase in Matthew’s Gospel. Scholars have written articles and even whole books on the topic. The phrase would have sparked a lot of interconnected ideas for the audience in Jesus’s time.
When they heard that the kingdom was coming near, Jesus’s Jewish audience would have expected God himself to show up and stay on earth. (We read about God’s arrival several times in the Psalms, for example, Psalm 98:7-9.) So God’s coming and presence on earth would be one of the ideas connected to the phrase.
Another idea connected to the kingdom was that when God came to earth, he would bring justice to the nations, and comfort for the people of God. (We see this idea a lot in Isaiah chapters 40-66.)
And one more idea interconnected to the kingdom would have been this sense of newness, that God was creating something new and complete and life-giving, on par with (or better than) the original creation in Eden. (I like to say that “heaven is coming to earth.” We see this idea in the “new heavens and the new earth” language of Isaiah 66:22 especially.)
So I like to bring these ideas together in my mind, and visualize them when I hear the phrase “kingdom of heaven.” And with the rest of Scripture in mind, and remembering how God is Triune, Three-in-One, I think about the kingdom of heaven in this way:
The kingdom of heaven is the space where God the Father is present with humanity, under the reign of Jesus the King, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is my way of trying to pull together the interconnected ideas from the Old Testament about the kingdom, and acknowledging the expanding insight into the kingdom that God gives us in the New Testament with the coming of God the Son and God the Spirit to be with us.
As believers and followers of Jesus, we live in that kingdom. We exist in that space. And we hope and pray and act for more of the kingdom together. And I pray that we’ll keep doing those things until Jesus returns.