Author: Rachel Kidd
Both Matthew and John refer to the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God in their respective gospels. Are these kingdoms the same? Are they a physical place or a spiritual place?
This second part of the series on the Kingdom of heaven will focus primarily on the kingdom as described by Matthew, centered on the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes.
Different theological perspectives have different understandings and varied beliefs in the application or ramification of this definition. However, generally the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom Of Heaven, refers to the “spiritual realm over which God reigns as king, or the fulfillment on Earth of God’s will.”
It is what the world will look like when God’s will has been fulfilled on earth, making all things new. But, what does that look like exactly? This blog will delve into Matthew chapter 5 and his descriptions of the Kingdom, both what it is and what it is not.
What the Kingdom is not
Before defining what the kingdom of heaven is, it’s helpful to understand what it is not. Matthew is clear that the kingdom cannot be found through human righteousness alone.
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. –Matt. 23:13–15
The Pharisees followed the law of Moses, the Jewish law, to the letter. They believed themselves to be the only righteous ones, making themselves the arbiters of what is good and what is not. They bend over backwards to create followers, yet their hypocrisy makes their converts just as lost as they are.
Jesus tells the Pharisees and scribes that they are not the decision makers in the kingdom. They are hypocrites of the highest order, not compelling others to righteousness as they so believed, but they are pulling them down and causing them to stumble.
He also emphasizes the distinct differences between the condemnation espoused by the religious leaders of the time and the welcoming arms of the Heavenly Father.
What is it?
In Matthew chapters 5-7, Jesus describes the Kingdom in His Sermon on the Mount. He paints a picture, inviting the crowd into His vision of the kingdom.
He begins by welcoming the persecuted Jews around Him, providing comfort for people who are experiencing the torment of the Roman empire. He blesses them, promising them the Kingdom. I can imagine His words were soothing to a hurting, persecuted people, seeking to preserve their community. Jesus says;
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. –Mathew 5:3
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 5:10
Fulfillment of the Law
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 5:17-20
Jesus tells His Jewish listeners that He has not come to abolish the law they have faithfully followed for generations, but rather to fulfill it. Jesus is the Messiah, the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy who promised to bring renewal to the law of Moses.
The remainder of the sermon, Jesus walks the crowd through each of the commandments, explaining how the kingdom of heaven will change and renew these laws. He did not come to remove systems of accountability, instead He emphasizes their importance, reminding us that only the most righteous can enter the kingdom.
The next blog in the series will delve deeper into the commandments, studying the specific changes Jesus proclaims, like plucking one’s own eye out if it causes you to stumble. He flipped the law on its head, calling into question the root ethos of each, asking the crowd to look deeper and understand the meaning behind their rules.
As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” –Romans 3:10-12
Because the Jewish people were bound by a lengthy set of rules. The Jewish law, or the Halakhah, is an ordered way of life that includes rules about eating, drinking, bathing, dress, and how to observe Shabbat and other holidays. Many still live by this code today, observing centuries old tradition and living in a righteous manner.
However, humans cannot be righteous enough for the kingdom by our works alone. The New Testament says that salvation then must come from Christ. Even the Pharisees, who follow the letter of the law, cannot enter into the kingdom without Jesus.
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. –Matthew 6:1
Jesus warns us to avoid performing righteousness for the approval of others. While we may be doing good work, like volunteering with a ministry, if we’re doing it for Instagram likes, we’ve already received our reward.
The kingdom of heaven is the eternal reward, something that cannot be earned or bought. Jesus shared the vision of the kingdom to His people that day, bringing them close with comfort and hope for an eternity with Him.