(Article #2 in 3 Article Series on the Kingdom of God)
In the previous article, “The Apostles’ Perspective of the Kingdom of God,” we saw how after the Apostles received the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost they no longer focused on Christ restoring the kingdom to Israel, but instead emphasized inheriting eternal life and the spiritual salvation of all mankind. This included what we would consider to be the post-millennial time. In the resurrection chapter, where Paul could have pointed the brethren toward their future in “the wonderful world tomorrow”, he instead directed them toward their change to spirit beings and quickly moves to the post-millennial time as he wrote, “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father…. Now when all things are made subject to Him, the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all” (read I Cor. 15:24-28). This is after the final judgement when death is destroyed and then the New Jerusalem comes to earth (Rev. 21 & 22).
In the Apostle’s writings there was no “good news” about coming world peace with swords being beaten into plowshares, the desert blossoming like a rose or the law going forth out of Zion. This change of hope for the future that was being proclaimed by the Apostles could be troubling to many Jewish Christians whose primary hope was for the coming messianic kingdom. Although those prophecies about the messianic kingdom will be fulfilled on this present earth during what is called the millennium, that was not the primary focus of what the Apostles taught nor was it the gospel they preached.
The Jews in Matthew’s day had a difficult time grappling with the hope of being part of a kingdom that was spiritual, where they would bear the image of the heavenly (see God face to face), rather than the earthly kingdom here on earth (God’s footstool) with the Messiah reigning from Jerusalem and allowing each man to live in peace under his vine and fig tree (no more Roman rule). Although they knew about the heavenly kingdom where God reigns, the Jews in the 1st century were seeking first the messianic kingdom.
Have you ever wondered why Matthew, who decades after Christ’s resurrection, in writing to a primarily Jewish audience, described the Kingdom of God as the Kingdom of Heaven (32 times)? Many times in the synoptic gospels when Mark or Luke record the same words of Jesus as the “Kingdom of God”, Matthew calls it the “Kingdom of heaven.” Why did he do that?
Some scholars think it’s because he didn’t want to use the name “God” since his gospel was written in Aramaic to a Jewish audience who might be offended. The Jews often used the word “heaven” as an acronym for “God” so Matthew could avoid using God’s name by calling it the “kingdom of heaven.” However, 5 times Matthew does call it the “Kingdom of God.” Remember, he wrote in Matt. 6:33 “seek you first the kingdom of God and his righteousness….”
Likewise, in Matt. 19:23-24 Matthew uses both terms when he records Jesus saying, “it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew doesn’t seem all that concerned about offending the Jewish readers when in the same breath he has Jesus calling it the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God.
Let’s look at the real reason why Matthew deliberately changed that word from the parallel accounts seen in Mark, Luke and John. His purpose in doing so can impact how believers today picture God’s Kingdom just as it did for the Jewish Christians in the first century.
To most Jews in Jesus’ day that kingdom they looked forward to would be of God, but it would be a physical, earthly kingdom. The Jews eagerly were waiting for the time when the Messiah would come to throw off the Roman shackles and bring back the glory days of Solomon to the nation of Israel. This physical restoration of Israel’s kingdom was prophesied by many of the prophets and will definitely take place (through Christ, the Messiah) during the millennium. On the day Jesus ascended to heaven even His disciples asked Him in Acts 1:6 “Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
That was the hope of the Jewish people who would be reading Matthew’s gospel account. The kingdom will be restored to Israel with the Messiah reigning in Jerusalem. Most of the Jews, however, also understood that there was another Kingdom, a spiritual Kingdom of God that has always existed where God reigns in Heaven. This is the Kingdom of Heaven. We can read about it in the Old Testament writings.
In Psa. 103:19-21 David wrote, “The Lord (Yehovah) has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all. Bless the Lord, you His angels, Who excel in strength, who do His word, Heeding the voice of His word. Bless the Lord, all you His hosts, You servants of His, who do His pleasure.” In Psa. 145:10-13 David also wrote, “All your works shall praise You, O Lord, And your saints shall bless You, They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom, And talk of Your power, To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts, And the glorious majesty of His kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.” David also prayed in I Chron. 29:11 “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, The Power and the glory. The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom O Lord and you are exalted as head over all.” Jesus even cites this (only in Matthew’s account of the Lord’s prayer) when He tells His disciples to pray to “Our Father which art in heaven… for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen” (Matt. 6:9-13).
What Kingdom is this where the Lord (Yehovah) reigns from Heaven that is an everlasting Kingdom and the angels along with the heavenly hosts bless Him who sits on His throne? It is the glorious majestic Kingdom of God! It is what the Jews in Matthew’s day would have called the Kingdom of Heaven. The Lord (Yehovah) is the everlasting King and so is His Kingdom.
Isa. 66:1 and Acts 7:49 read, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool’.…” In what is called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus referred to this when He said in Matt. 5:34-35, “do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool….” In Psa. 29:10 David wrote, “The Lord sat enthroned at the Flood, and the Lord sits as King forever.” Psa. 10:16 reads, “The Lord is King forever and ever.” All of Psa. 47 praises the Lord (Yehovah) Most High who “is a great King over all the earth”(v-2). “God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne” (V-8). Jesus is sitting right now at the right hand of God on His Father’s throne in Heaven (Heb. 8:1; Rev. 3:21).
At God’s throne, the seraphim and cherubim are described in Isa. 6 and also in chapters 1, 10 & 41 of Ezekiel. Daniel’s prophesy in Dan. 7:10 says, “a thousand thousands ministered to Him; Ten thousand times ten thousands stood before Him”. Even Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, acknowledged that the Most High God has an everlasting Kingdom and he calls God the King of Heaven (Dan. 4:3, 37). God’s Kingdom has a king, territory (everywhere), laws and subjects.
The existence of this spiritual Kingdom of Heaven where the God of Heaven reigns was understood by the Jews. God’s plan for mankind to be a part of His eternal realm and live forever was the good news that Matthew was revealing primarily to his Jewish readers. This Kingdom of Heaven was the gospel Kingdom and was based on better promises through the Christ (Messiah). It was the gospel of entering this spiritual realm that the people of faith mentioned in Heb. 11 understood, but very few Jews understood.
We know from the book of Revelation that eventually God’s throne would be coming to a new earth (Rev. 21, II Pet 3:13, I Cor. 15:24-28). Through the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world, we will dwell with Him forever in the New Jerusalem that is now in Heaven and will be coming down to a new earth. It was the promise of having access now and an inheritance at the resurrection to be a part of this spiritual realm that Matthew wanted the Jews to direct their attention to and not the restoration of the physical nation of Israel (which we know will take place during the millennium). The good news is not about coming world peace, but about eternal life. That is why Matthew often changed the phrase “Kingdom of God” to “Kingdom of Heaven” to make this delineation clear to those Jews who would be called (and all of us) who have eyes to see and ears to hear to understand the truth of the gospel.
It was the gospel of entering this spiritual Kingdom which flesh and blood cannot inherit (I Cor. 15:50) that Jesus wanted them to focus on and which Matthew in his account emphasized by calling it the Kingdom of Heaven. It would have been easy for a Jew, especially in the first century, to only equate the Kingdom of God with the messianic kingdom that was spoken of by the prophets.
Matthew’s gospel account, like that in the book of Hebrews, which was also written to a Jewish audience, was not about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel or how wonderful it will be when the wolf and the lion lays down with the lamb or men beat their swords into plowshares as a time of world peace is ushered in during the time which we know as the millennium. In their writings, the Apostles didn’t write about the desert blossoming like a rose or rain in due season or every man living under his vine and fig tree. The book of Hebrews is about the present reality of the true tabernacle in Heaven and the true holy sacrifice of Christ who is in Heaven today seated at the right hand of God on His throne. It’s about the new covenant relationship we have with Him based on better promises than what was offered to ancient Israel. It’s about the faith of all of the old patriarchs, prophets and people of God who were looking for that Heavenly city whose builder and maker is God.
Most of the Jews (and the Judaizers) in Matthew’s day were still blinded concerning the access to and inheritance of the spiritual heavenly kingdom. Living at that time under Roman occupation only heightened their one desire for that physical restoration of Israel. Ever since the disciples and Saul of Tarsus were children they knew that one day soon the Anointed One (the Christ), the Messiah would come to set things right in the world. All of the Jews were very much aware of the messianic prophesies in scripture in which they saw the Christ (Messiah) as a liberator and restorer of physical Israel (Luke 24:21). The messianic kingdom they wanted didn’t require repentance or conversion. It wasn’t something you “inherited” by taking on the image of the heavenly, but something that just happened. That’s why many of them were laying down the palm branches in Jesus’ path when He entered Jerusalem on a donkey and they shouted, “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!” (Mark 11:10-11).
The gospel of the Kingdom of God was not, as many churches of God today teach, “the announcement of a coming world government.” Even many of those yelling “crucify Him, crucify Him,” would have gladly accepted that gospel. Most of the Jews at that time were expecting the messianic kingdom. It was even difficult for His disciples to see beyond the restoration of physical Israel, and they asked Jesus about it right up to the day He rose into the clouds (Acts 1:1-9).
After they received the Holy Spirit, their narrative and their understanding of the words of Jesus changed from the physical salvation of Israel to the spiritual salvation of all mankind. Paul called the gospel of the Kingdom of God that he preached “the gospel of your salvation” (Eph. 1:13). Salvation was no longer about a physical salvation from one’s enemies, but rather obtaining “the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (II Tim. 2:10). Paul preached “Christ crucified” (I Cor. 1:17, 23) because the gospel (good message) was about Jesus Christ abolishing death and bringing life and immortality to light (II Tim. 1:10). Paul also called it “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24-25). It was the gospel of the grace of God because Christ had told His Apostles that repentance and remission of sins was to be preached in His name to all nations (Luke 24:27). When you read all the epistles written by the Apostles, their messages were not an announcement about what we would call the coming “wonderful world tomorrow.” That was not the gospel they were proclaiming. Instead, the gospel of Jesus Christ was about eternal life. They looked forward to entering that spiritual realm that included what we would consider the post-millennial time of a new heavens and a new earth in a spiritual reality. Paul’s preaching the gospel of “Christ crucified” or what he also called “the gospel of the grace of God” and “the gospel of your salvation” isn’t another or a different gospel from Christ’s gospel of the Kingdom of God. It’s the other side of the same coin. We have grace, salvation, access to and inheritance of the eternal Kingdom of God because of Christ crucified. There’s no other name or way in which man can be saved. It is the gospel of a spiritual inheritance through Jesus Christ.
It had been difficult for many of the Jews in Paul’s day to make this change in how they envisioned the Kingdom. For “those of the circumcision” Israel had always been “the vine” (Psa. 80:8-13; Jer. 2:21; Ezek. 17:1-21; 19:10-14) and they still believed that one must be circumcised and be a part of Israel to be in fellowship and have salvation. Christ said, “I am the true vine…” (John 15:1) and as branches we must abide in Him and thus bear fruit, or we will be tossed in the fire (v-6). The Judaizers (those of the circumcision) couldn’t let go of that shadow of the old covenant to embrace the truth of the gospel it pointed to or foreshadowed.
Matthew let his Jewish readers (and everyone else) know that God’s heavenly Kingdom was what Jesus meant by the gospel of the Kingdom of God. The gospel was about an existing Kingdom. In Matthew’s account Jesus said, “And I will give you keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:19). So where is the Kingdom of Heaven? The Kingdom of Heaven is in Heaven! The Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven is a spiritual realm that exists right now and existed back then when Jesus spoke those words. Christ was not in Matt. 16:19 giving them keys to “the millennium” to be bound in “the wonderful world tomorrow.”
Many of us with a Worldwide Church of God background have in decades gone by primarily framed our thoughts of the Kingdom of God in the context of a coming Kingdom– a wonderful world tomorrow that is synonymous with what is called “the Millennium”. The same is true today for many messianic Christians whose focus is on the restoration of Israel by Yeshua and His messianic kingdom bringing worldwide peace and Torah observance. Unfortunately, because mainstream Christianity has a false paradigm about Heaven being the reward of the saved (including deceased family members looking down at us now from Heaven), in an effort to differentiate ourselves from their false narrative about Heaven, we ignored many of the scriptures about God’s eternal heavenly Kingdom. We unwittingly created a paradigm of our own concerning the Kingdom of God (see part 1 of this Kingdom of God series “The Apostles’ Perspective of the Kingdom of God”).
If David sang about how all the saints should bless the Lord (Yehovah), speaking about the glorious majesty of God’s Kingdom that is an everlasting Kingdom where the angels are and Paul also wrote to his Jewish brethren (Heb. 12:22-24) about our coming to Mt. Zion, the city of the Living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem with an innumerable company of angels in God’s heavenly Kingdom, shouldn’t we also as His saints sing about that glorious Kingdom that exists right now in Heaven? Sadly in sermons and booklets of many churches of God the existing glorious Kingdom of God is never mentioned. They will use terms like the “government of God” or “family of God”, but not the existing everlasting Kingdom of God. This is why it is important that former Worldwide Church of God members and those in messianic congregations understand that the Kingdom of Heaven, which is in Heaven, is the gospel Kingdom of God that Matthew wanted his Jewish readers to understand.
Likewise, part of the problem in defining the gospel is that many treat the word “gospel” only like it is a “good news” headline– kind of like the New York Times in 1945 announcing “Japan Surrenders.” The word “gospel” in the Greek (unangelion) means “glad tidings” or a good message. It’s not just the headline, but includes the message. The good message of Christ crucified includes not just His death, but His resurrection, His return and the result of what happened on that cross. The gospel of salvation and the gospel of grace that Paul preached is not a different gospel (glad tidings or good message) than the gospel of the Kingdom of God. It’s the good message of grace, of salvation and of eternal life in the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ.
The gospel of the Kingdom of heaven is about how, through Christ crucified, we can now have access to and at the resurrection enter into that spiritual realm of God as spirit beings, bearing the image of the heavenly and clothed with immortality. It’s about inheriting everlasting life (Matt. 19:28). That Kingdom of God we will inherit has always existed and always will.
We know that the Kingdom of God already exists because Jesus tells us in Rev. 3:21 that He overcame “and sat down with My Father on His throne”. He is right now “seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Heb. 8:1). That throne is described in powerful detail in Ezek. 1 and Rev. 4. It is in Heaven.
In Matthew’s gospel the “Kingdom of Heaven” also should be literally translated the Kingdom of “heavens” (plural), meaning His Kingdom not only encompasses Heaven, but also the entire created (physical and spiritual) universe. It’s all encompassing to include those billions of stars we now can see through the Hubble telescope in the physical universe along with the spiritual heaven and any other dimension out there. This spiritual realm is the focus of the book of Hebrews which, like Matthew’s account, was also written primarily to a Jewish audience.
In speaking of the eternal hope for all the people of faith who have gone before us, Heb. 11:13-16 reads, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” That city, we know, is the New Jerusalem.
Why didn’t Paul (who I and many others believe wrote the book of Hebrews) write about the lion lying down with the lamb, the vine and the fig tree, the law going forth out of Zion and the coming world peace with Jesus ruling from physical Jerusalem? This would have been a great place to talk to a Jewish audience about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel, but he didn’t.
The fact is Israel has been given better promises than a long physical life on earth with rain in due season and old men dreaming dreams or every man sitting under his vine and fig tree. The new covenant is based on better promises than these. It’s about eternal life when we are changed, become a part of that spiritual realm and “bear the image of the heavenly” (I Cor. 15:49).
During the millennium, in the wonderful world tomorrow, with the Messiah reigning in the physical Jerusalem, human beings will still be keeping the Feast of Tabernacles. Think about it! Five hundred years from now farmers, who years earlier as children played with lions & lambs, whose great, great, great grandfathers beat their swords into plowshares, who are living under their vine & fig tree at a time of world peace will still be keeping the Feast of Tabernacles. If the gospel kingdom is the millennial kingdom, the kingdom they are living in, then why are they still keeping the Feast about a coming kingdom? It’s because as human beings they will be confessing that while in this flesh they are strangers and sojourners on the earth seeking a heavenly city whose builder and maker is God. While tabernacling in fleshly bodies they will be groaning to be clothed with immortality because, even though they are dwelling in the messianic kingdom, there is another kingdom they are seeking to inherit, because flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. To be in the Kingdom of God means you are a spirit being. Jesus told His disciples that whoever is least in the Kingdom of God will be greater than John the Baptist (Luke 7:28).
It’s that spiritual Kingdom that has always existed that all the Apostles sought after as well as those living during the millennium will do. That’s what all the patriarchs sought after. It’s what all the prophets who wrote those messianic prophecies about Israel’s restoration did too. Heb. 13:14 reads “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”
Even King David, near the height of Israel’s glory, when he prayed at the dedication of the material for Solomon to build the temple, said in I Chron. 29:15 “For we are aliens and pilgrims before You (can be translated sojourners and transients), As were all our fathers; Our days on earth are as a shadow, and without hope.”
In II Cor. 5:1-4 Paul wrote, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven…. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.”
Men and women of faith from Abel to Abraham to a farmer living 500 years from now during the millennium all will have tabernacled in temporary fleshly bodies seeking a heavenly city whose builder and maker is God. They will have groaned to be clothed with immortality and bear the image of the heavenly in that everlasting spiritual realm. We and even the earth itself were created subject to futility (Rom. 8:20-23) and groan for that time when everything is shaken that can be shaken and God creates a new heavens and a new earth. The only place that cannot be shaken is where God is.
Heaven is a spiritual realm that exists right now. We know that our citizenship is there (Phil. 3:20). Our inheritance “reserved in heaven for you” is there (I Pet. 1:4). Our hope is “laid up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:5). Today we are ambassadors for Christ (II Cor. 5:20) of a Kingdom that is not of this world. This Kingdom of God (Heaven) exists right now. Paul wrote that “Jerusalem above (not the church) is the mother of us all” (Gal. 4:26). He wrote in Heb. 12:22-24 “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect.”
While we aren’t there yet, all of our names are registered there (Luke 10:20) in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 21:27). When we die we sleep, our spirit goes back to God who gave it (Ecc. 12:7) and we will be changed at the last trumpet when Christ returns (I Cor. 15:52) and “this mortal shall have put on immortality” (v-54).
As for the heavenly Jerusalem, Jesus went away to His Father’s house (Heaven) to prepare a place for us (John 14:2). We know the Heavenly Jerusalem will be coming to the new earth after the final judgment and death itself will be destroyed (Rev. 21). It’s that city not made with human hands that Abraham, Isaac & Jacob and those faithful servants mentioned in Heb. 11 sought.
This city built by God, the New Jerusalem, is described in Rev. 21:16 as being almost 1,400 miles in length, width and height. Think about that! It was made by God not by or for physical humans to inhabit (99.6% of it is higher than Mt. Everest). This city is so huge it could cover most of the western United States and is 6 times higher than the 230-mile orbit of the international space station.
The saints in those 7 churches in Asia Minor reading about its size would realize that not only their cities such as Ephesus and Laodicea could fit well within the city limits of the New Jerusalem, but so would half of the Roman Empire and all the ancient cities in Egypt, Babylon, Persia and Greece. “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:1-2). Here we will be married to The Lamb. He and our Father will be the light of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:23).
Jesus told His disciples on the night he was betrayed, “In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know” (John 14:2-4). That spiritual Kingdom that has always existed was where Jesus returned to after He rose to glory to be seated at the right hand of God the Father on His throne. On that same night He was betrayed, Jesus prayed, “And now, oh Father glorify me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5). He had been in that spiritual Kingdom for all eternity and was going back. Jesus said, “…Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). “But in the last day he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe” (Heb. 1:2 NIV). Because Christ rose from the dead and has been glorified by His Father, at the resurrection of the dead “as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (I Cor. 15:49).
This is “… the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel….” (Col. 1:5). This is “His heavenly kingdom” that Paul awaited (II Tim. 4:18). We will spend eternity with Jesus Christ and our Father in this spiritual realm. That is good news and is all made possible through Christ crucified, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:12). Because of Him there will be no more sin and death caused by the lack of faith which began for mankind with Adam & Eve in the garden and continued throughout human history. Everyone in the spiritual realm will be living in true righteousness in God’s Kingdom of agape love for all eternity. Because God so love the world He gave His Son that we won’t perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Because of the obedience of His Son we have grace and faith in God’s agape love, wisdom and power.
Sometime in the future there’s going to be an innumerable multitude of saints who, after going through the Great Tribulation, are going to be in the Kingdom of Heaven standing before their Father’s throne with the Lamb, Jesus Christ, by His side. God the Father is going to wipe away every tear. This may include some of us. Notice where they are in Rev. 7:9-17 “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one can number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying: ‘Amen! Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.’ Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’ And I said to him ‘Sir, you know.’ So he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'” It’s much the same as what is said in Rev. 21:1-7, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Our Father is going to wipe away every tear from our eyes.
The Kingdom of God is spiritual, has always existed, continues to exist today and will exist forever. We are to seek first this “Kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). The subject of Matt. 6 and the parallel account in Luke 12 is the Father’s care for us. As He clothes the lilies of the field He takes care of us. The hairs on our head are numbered by Him. Our Father today, right now, knows our needs so we are not to worry about what we will eat or drink or how we will be clothed, but we are to seek first the Kingdom of God or “His Kingdom” (the Father’s) as the oldest manuscripts show and as Luke 12:31 is seen in the NIV. Our Father’s Kingdom and His righteousness are what we are to seek first. Jesus told His disciples at His last supper, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29). We can look forward to that day when we drink it new in His Father’s kingdom. This Kingdom is all about God’s agape love, His true righteousness and our faith & trust in it for all eternity.
Yes, there will be a physical kingdom restored to Israel during the millennium and the law will go forth out of Zion (Isa. 2:3). Satan will be bound and there will be peace on the earth more than any other time in man’s history. Then Satan is released for a season after the thousand years are up to deceive the nations to try to fight the Lord (Rev. 20:7-9). That 1,000 year time of peace will be wonderful! We should look forward to that time when we spend our first day of eternity with Christ and our first assignment is to be reigning as kings and priests in Christ’s kingdom. However, being part of the kingdom of His dear Son comes after we have entered the spiritual realm of God as spirit beings at the resurrection. The actual physical restored kingdom of Israel on earth, apart from our change to immortality, was not the primary focus of any of those epistles written for our instruction, nor was it the main focus of Christ’s Revelation given through John. The good news– “the good message” proclaimed for us by the writers of the New Testament is not to live on a farm with rain in due season, living under a vine and fig tree at a time of world peace. The good news for mankind is about eternal life at the resurrection of the dead, bearing the image of the heavenly and being with our God and Savior forever in the spiritual realm– the everlasting Kingdom of God.
During the millennium the messianic kingdom will be “of God”, but it is a distinct kingdom. In many ways the messianic kingdom is one with the eternal Kingdom of God, just like the Father and the Son are one and yet they are distinct. They can be somewhat synonymous (Luke 17:20; 19:11) in that the kingdoms are of God and the sovereignty of God is in each kingdom. Also, in the person of Christ, the Kingdom of God is among us (Matt. 12:28). Again, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). So in that sense the Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of Christ and of God (Eph. 5:5). The deity of the Father and the Son are expressed in the messianic prophetic Psa. 45:6-7 which is also cited in Heb. 1:8-9 (“Your throne of God, is forever and ever… Therefore God, Your God has anointed you….”). Both kingdoms are of Christ and are of God, yet they are also distinct. Jesus told His disciples, “And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:29-30). God the Father is giving His Son a kingdom for Him to reign on the earth. Dan. 7:13-14 reads, “I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.” This kingdom that the Father (the Ancient of Days) gives to Christ, the Messiah, when Christ comes in the clouds at the resurrection is the same one spoken of in Dan. 2:44 “And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and shall stand forever.” The messianic kingdom is a kingdom Jesus said His Father appoints or gives Him when He comes in the clouds and Christ is going to deliver to God the Father that same messianic kingdom (“Then comes the end when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father”) after He has finished reigning on earth and death is destroyed (read I Cor. 15:24-28) so that God may be all in all. It’s the eternal Kingdom of God, however, which is the kingdom we will inherit when we are changed at the resurrection, put on immortality and bear the image of the heavenly. “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has an ear to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 13:43). We will then be like Him for we shall see Him as He is. That is the good message of the Kingdom of God!
Our reconciliation with God starts now as fleshly human beings who have by faith believed in Jesus Christ and have received the Holy Spirit. Through Christ Jesus we have been adopted as sons of God and today we can come boldly before God’s throne of grace. Paul even said that God has made us alive together with Christ “and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places” (Eph. 2:6). This is the spiritual realm, the existing Kingdom of God, which we are to seek first. There our Father sits on His eternal throne. We often begin our prayers, “Father in heaven, we come before your throne….” We come before His throne, not His chair. From His throne, with Christ at His right hand, God reigns over His eternal Kingdom that is real and is near to us all.
Whenever we only make the Kingdom of God, as many do, synonymous with the coming messianic kingdom (the Millennium or the “wonderful world tomorrow”), we tend to focus our attention on the physical future kingdom. Even during the Feast of Tabernacles, rather concentrating on the fact that we are sojourning in temporary earthly tabernacles like Peter and Paul taught (II Pet. 1:13-14 & II Cor. 4:16-18, 5:1-4), we often spend our time at the Feast of Tabernacles going out to restaurants, eating fine meals and drinking fine wine because somehow, for many Christians today, “this all pictures the Kingdom of God on earth” (the Millennium). Those words are taught from many pulpits and are read in church booklets, yet those with His Spirit know deep down inside, the Kingdom of God is not about meat and drink! It’s not about staying at a luxury resort with access to a hot tub, eating good steaks, drinking nice glasses of wine and “tomorrow we’re going to Legoland.” Nor was that even the main message given during the 1950’s when most of the brethren who kept the Feast of Tabernacles in the old Radio Church of God were camping in tents or staying in cabins during the Feast.
Let’s face it, it would have been a hard sell back then to tell a family living 8 days in a tent, cooking breakfast on a Coleman stove and getting their children all dressed up in that tent for church services that somehow “this all pictures the kingdom of God.” For many brethren keeping the Feast, the meaning of the Feast slowly started to change during the 1960’s into something very different than it’s biblical meaning. I’m not saying that we need to go back to living in tents, cabins or small motel rooms during the Feast, but we should never lose sight of the true meaning and spiritual intent of the Feast, including our rejoicing in Christ Jesus for our hope of eternal life through Him. The Feast is about how (like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the people of God throughout history) we are strangers and sojourners living in this world that is not our home. We are in the world, but not of the world. Our citizenship and heart are elsewhere. Also, like those leafy branches of a sukkah (tabernacle) made by an Israelite in Joshua’s day, which by the end of the Feast was sagging and falling apart, we realize the temporariness of life– that all flesh is like grass and we aren’t taking anything in this life with us into the next. It’s why the Jews even today read the book of Ecclesiastes (showing how all in this life is vanity or temporary) during the Feast of Tabernacles. Our hope is in Christ and the resurrection of the dead. This includes the resurrection of the coming great harvest of those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. As Christians understanding Christ’s role in our salvation, we should also be reading again in Numbers 29:11-34 how, per God’s instruction to the priests in ancient Israel, while the children of Israel at the Feast were dwelling in sukkahs, the sons of Aaron and the priests were busy sacrificing scores of bullocks, rams and goats, including an additional 14 lambs without spot. The Feast of Tabernacles was the bloodiest time of year for the priests as were all the Holy Days. We know, from the book of Hebrews, that those sacrifices all pointed to Christ’s sacrifice, including those additional 14 lambs without spot. The Feast days and all the holy days, with those extra 7 or 14 lambs without spot being sacrificed, point to Jesus Christ, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. He is the reason for the season of all the holy days (see “The Gospel Revealed In God’s Holy Days” on this website). During the Feast our focus should be on Him. All three festival seasons are about Christ.
Also, when we make the Kingdom of God only synonymous with the coming messianic kingdom or the wonderful world tomorrow and only preach the gospel about a coming kingdom, in many ways we tend to concentrate on the future and bypass the present reality of the everlasting Kingdom of God that has always existed and always will exist. Today, we don’t only think about and rejoice over the coming of Christ (future), but also on what He did on the cross and what He taught (past). We can also rejoice today because Christ has come (present) and is active in our lives as through the Holy Spirit He dwells within us (Gal. 2:20). Today He is right now seated at the right hand of God the Father on His throne and as our High Priest makes intercession for us. During the three annual festival seasons we should think about Jesus Christ, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world who is our justification (Passover), sanctification (Pentecost) and glorification (Tabernacles). During the three annual festival seasons we rejoice because He came (Passover), He has come (Pentecost) and He is coming again (Tabernacles). He’s our yesterday (Passover), today (Pentecost) and forever (Tabernacles). He was (Passover), yet is (Pentecost) and is to come (Tabernacles). We should also set our hearts and minds today on God’s majestic eternal Kingdom– past, present and future. The Kingdom of Heaven has always existed, exists right now and always will. It is a mistake to limit God’s Kingdom to that wonderful future kingdom that the Father is giving to His Son to reign on the earth (His footstool) during one day of eternity (the millennium). Our Father’s Kingdom is an eternal glorious kingdom.
Jesus wants us as Christians to glorify His Father in Heaven. That’s why we are here on earth (God’s footstool) to be salt and light to the world “…that they might see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16). Everything we do in this life is to be to the glory of God (I Cor. 10:3). Jesus has revealed to us who His Father is and the glorious majesty of our Father’s eternal Kingdom in Heaven. Our Father’s is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Today, up above, “… you have come to Mt. Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels….(Heb. 12:22). It’s that same kingdom that David wrote about in Psa. 145:10-13 and we too should be saying, “All your works shall praise You, O Lord (Yehovah), And your saints shall bless You, They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom, And talk of Your power, To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts, And the glorious majesty of His kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.” Our God of all grace is calling us to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus (I Pet. 5:10). As His children, brethren, we need to set our hearts on things above, recognize our Father’s eternal Kingdom and praise Him. That is what Jesus and His Apostles did. Also, praising our Father more doesn’t mean we are praising Jesus less for they are one with us (John 17:11, 23). Likewise, looking to God’s eternal kingdom in heaven doesn’t mean we are not looking forward to the kingdom of His dear Son on earth. They are linked with our eternity with God our Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, that God may be all in all.
Matthew let his Jewish readers know that as Christians we are to focus on that spiritual eternal Kingdom of Heaven. The gospel is the good news of that Kingdom, which through Jesus Christ we now have access to and will inherit when we put on immortality and bear the image of the heavenly. Our Father is in Heaven and holy is His name. His is (right now) the kingdom and the power and the glory forever! Let’s set our hearts on the heavenly kingdom mentioned by Paul in the final words he ever wrote for us: “And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen!” (II Tim. 4:18-19). Paul also wrote, “If you then were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1-2).
Matthew had more to say about Heaven in his gospel account. Please continue on in the subsequent article titled, “Living Forever in God’s Heavenly Kingdom.”
Written by Lee Lisman
(Please click below to continue with the third article titled “Living Forever in God’s Heavenly Kingdom” in this 3-article series on the Kingdom of God)
Living Forever in God’s Heavenly Kingdom part 3 of 3