We see a phrase in the Gospel of Matthew that does not occur anywhere else – “the Kingdom of Heaven.” It occurs 31 times in this gospel. Since the Holy Spirit inspired this book, there must have been a reason why He used this phrase so often here. John the Baptist came preaching, saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). After his time, Jesus preached exactly the same message in Matthew 4:17. When He began the Sermon on the Mount, the very first words He said were, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). So we see an emphasis on “Heaven” right from the beginning of the New Testament. “Heaven” is mentioned 17 times in the Sermon on the Mount alone.
The old covenant which God made with Israel related to a kingdom on this earth. Israel was given Canaan’s land and promised material prosperity, physical healing and other earthly benefits. Later, they had an earthly king, earthly riches and other earthly blessings. But Jesus came to lift man to another realm altogether – to Heaven. So when we read the New Testament, we must remember that the good news here is primarily about Heaven and not about this earth. If we understand this, it will save us from much of the confusion found in Christendom today.
We say we are “saved”. That is a very common expression among believers. But what are we “saved” from? Have we been saved from earthly ways, or have we just had our sins forgiven? Have we been saved from an interest in earthly things, from an earthly way of viewing people and circumstances, and from earthly ways of behaving?
The new covenant is the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven. Many people around the world are eager to become citizens of the United States of America, because the USA is a very attractive place to live in. But nobody would be interested in becoming citizens of some backward country in Africa. Why is it then that so few in this world are interested in becoming citizens of the most attractive place of all – heaven? Because they have not seen the real glory of heavenly citizenship. And this is because the gospel has not been preached properly. And so we find a multitude of “so-called believers” sitting in the church who are not interested in the Kingdom of Heaven. They want to go to heaven when they die, but they don’t want the kingdom of heaven now.
The word ‘Kingdom’ is not a word that we understand clearly today, because we have very few kings ruling kingdoms now, unlike as in the first century. The equivalent word we use today is ‘government’. We speak of the ‘government of India’ and not the ‘kingdom of India’.
That’s what the Kingdom of Heaven means – the government of heaven. It means God governing your life. When you live in India, you have to live under the rules of the Government of India. If you come into the government of heaven, you have to live under the rules of the government of heaven. Have you changed your citizenship from earth to heaven?
Salvation means being saved from the kingdom of earth to the Kingdom of Heaven. But the salvation of many believers has not gone that far. They want to go to heaven when they die. But they don’t want the rule of heaven in their lives now. They want to live now as full citizens of this earth. That is why their Christian life is so shallow.
There is yet another word used in Matthew that is not found in any other gospel. It is the word ‘church.’ It occurs thrice – once in Matthew 16:18 and twice in Matthew 18:17. Put this word alongside the phrase we have been considering, and we will see that the church is meant to be the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. In heaven everybody lives under the government of heaven, the rule of God. But here on earth it is different. Everyone runs his own life. In the midst of such people, God has a group of people who do not run their own lives. They are under the government of heaven.
That is the church. Are the churches in the world living under the absolute authority of the government of heaven? No. This has grieved my heart for many years. I hope it grieves your heart too. I am not blaming others. I am not saying ‘They are like that’. I am saying, ‘We are like that.’ We are the church and we have failed to show the world the blessedness of living under the rule of heaven. And so I pray, “Lord, forgive us for our failure. Help us to show the world what it means to live under the rule of God.”
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon