What is the Kingdom of God?

Recently, a friend posted on his Facebook page the poster you see above. I replied to his post by saying: “Good admonition! The problem is that most modern Christians have no idea what the Kingdom of God is!” Now, the irony of that reality is that the main theme of the ministry and life of Jesus was the Kingdom of God! The Kingdom of God was the subject of every one of his sermons! The Kingdom of God was the object of every one of his teaching sessions! The demonstration of the power and presence of the Kingdom of God was purpose for every one of his miracles! Yet, those who claim to follow him today, know very little about the Kingdom of God as he presented it!

Now, I hope you noticed what I just said: I said, “Those who claim to follow him today know very little about the Kingdom of God ‘as he presented it!” Most of what we think we know about the Kingdom of God today was gathered from the writings of theologians (Early Church and modern) and from ideas in art and culture, but what did Jesus say about the Kingdom of God?

As I write this, I am reminded of the frustrations I experienced as a young teen, helping my father in his work. My father was a greens-keeper at a golf-course and in the course of his work, he repaired and worked on small engines and the equipment used to maintain the course. When I first started working with him, during the summer-breaks from school, my frustrations stemmed from the fact that I was a little slow in remembering the names of the tools he worked with. For example, when my father would have his hands full working on a machine, he would ask me to bring him a Phillips-head screwdriver or a crescent-wrench. More often than not, before I got the hang of it, I would bring him a flat-head screwdriver or a pair of vice-grips instead! It was really frustrating for me to be rifling through the tool box, not knowing exactly what I was looking for! Often, when I couldn’t figure it out, I wouldn’t bring him what he asked for, I would just bring him what I thought he asked for!

Well, that’s the way it is with many Christians today! They really don’t know what Jesus meant when he said: “But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. . .” And since they don’t really know what he meant, they just go by what they think he meant! Just like the difficulty I experienced when looking in my father’s toolbox, it’s difficult to look for or even find something, when you don’t exactly know what you’re looking for!

So, what did Jesus mean when he said; “But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. . . ?” Well, I finally learned the tools my father needed by the process of elimination. In other words, even before I found out what vice-grips were; I found out what they weren’t! Therefore, let’s first look at what Jesus ‘did not mean’ when he talked about the Kingdom of God. Now, there were times when he did, but most of the time, when Jesus was talking about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, he WAS NOT talking about the Heaven we most often talk about! I remember as a young Christian, when I first read Matthew 6:33, I just assumed that Jesus meant that our first priority should be; to seek to live a good life so that we might go to Heaven after we die! But that is not what he said and that is not what he meant!

Most often, when Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, he was talking about the sovereign rule or the authority of God; the realm of God’s rule. In the preaching and teachings of Jesus, the terms; Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven were not primarily referencing a place or location, but rather the act of ruling or the state of submission to God’s rule. Therefore, to ‘see’ and to ‘enter into’ the Kingdom of God in John 3:3 and John 3:5 are not references to seeing and walking through the pearly gates after death, but rather, to perceiving, understanding, and submitting to God’s sovereign rule in one’s life now! Note the tenses, Jesus did not say; ‘will not see’ or ‘will not enter’ (future tense), he said; ‘cannot see’ and ‘cannot enter’ (present tense). Now, there were times when he referenced the future aspect of the Kingdom of God. In the parables, he talked about the angels separating the wheat from the tares and separating the good fish from the bad fish. He talked about going away and preparing a place for us in John 14; that was future tense.

So in summary, here is what the Kingdom of God is from what we have discussed so far:

          The Kingdom of God is the sovereign rule of God.

          The Kingdom of God is a present reality.

          The Kingdom of God is a future hope.

Now, I don’t want this post to be too long, but I just want to focus on the aspect of the Kingdom of God as a present reality before I go. While traditional Christianity has done a good job of presenting the Kingdom of God as a future hope, it has done a very poor job of presenting the Kingdom of God as a present reality! The reason for that might be because it seems to be hard for people to wrap their heads around the reality that the Kingdom of God is not one or the other, but rather, the Kingdom of God is both! The Kingdom of God is indeed the culmination of history when God shall subdue all evil and sin, death and sickness will be no more and we will reign with God throughout eternity. Yes! That is the Kingdom of God! But the Kingdom of God is also, the sovereign rule, authority, and power of God working in and through the lives of His people for the purpose of His will being done presently on earth as it is done in Heaven! You see, the problem with traditional Christianity is that only one aspect of the Kingdom of God has been presented! We’ve done a great job in preparing people to die, but we have ignored the fact that there is one thing everybody must do before they die; they must live! We’ve done a great job in preparing people for life in the here-after, but we’ve done a dismal job in preparing people for life in the here-and-now! The Gospel that Jesus preached was like the candy I used to eat as a kid, called; Now-and-Later. But the gospel we preach makes the same mistake we made with the candy when we were kids! Although the actual name of the candy was and is: Now ‘and’ Later, we called it:  Now ‘or’ Later!  Jesus preached a ‘now and later’ message, but the message of most modern preaching is ‘now or later!’ And that message has no appeal to a person who is struggle to make ends meet and to survive in life! It’s really no real consolation to know that things will be better after they die; they need some relief now! The Gospel of the Kingdom of God that Jesus preached addresses that need! In Mark 10:28-30, we read: “Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.” (Mk. 10:28-30 KJV) Did you read what Jesus said? He said; ‘now in this time. . . and in the world to come. . .” The real Gospel, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, the Gospel Jesus told us to actually preach is the now ‘and’ later Gospel!

 There is a lot more I could say about what the Kingdom of God is, but if I keep going, you will quit reading! But read Matthew 13 in your Bible. In that chapter, you will discover several examples of what the Kingdom of God is and what the Kingdom of God is like; now and later!

Eternal Life: Not Just a Lay-a-Way Plan!

One of the first Bible verses that many of us learned was John 3:16, which, according to the King James Version, says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (Jn. 3:16 KJV) The same verse, in the English Standard Version (ESV) says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16 ESV) The terms; ‘everlasting life’ and ‘eternal life’ are synonymous; the KJV says ‘everlasting,’ while most of the modern translations say; ‘eternal.’ In the Greek text, it is the same word, which literally means; ‘without beginning and end, that which always has been and always will be 2) without beginning 3) without end, never to cease, everlasting.’

Now, I used the term ‘literally’ because although the definition talks about not having an end, the term is used, in most cases in the Bible, not to signify the length of life, but rather, the quality of life! When you really think about it, the truth of the matter is this; everyone who has ever lived, will actually live forever! The big question is; where? For you see, when the Bible speaks of death, it is not talking primarily about annihilation or a cessation of existence, it is talking about separation! The Apostle Paul described the condition of the Ephesian believers before they became believers as that of being ‘dead in your trespasses and sins.’ (Eph. 2:1) In 1 Timothy 5:6, Paul described a widow, who was living in luxury as being ‘dead while she lives.’ In each case, the primary meaning of death was separation. Physical death is the separation of the human spirit and soul from the body. Spiritual death is the separation of a person from correct fellowship and relationship with God. Eternal death is the eternal separation from the fellowship and correct relationship with God. According to the Bible, everyone of us came into this world DOA; dead on arrival. The most important thing in life is the race against time! For it is of the utmost importance not let death (physical death) catch you dead (spiritually dead)!

Well, that’s enough about death, the purpose of this post is to talk about life! More specifically; eternal life! Now, what most modern believers do not understand or have otherwise failed to incorporate into the practical reality of their lives, is the fact that eternal life is a present-possession of every believer! If you are a true believer in Jesus, you will not get eternal life when you die and leave this world; you have eternal life now! Jesus said in John 5:24: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (NKJ) John, the Apostle wrote in 1 John 3:14-15: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (NKJ) Most ‘religious Christians’ don’t read the Bible correctly! They believe they will gain eternal life when they die! But the truth of the matter is; if you don’t possess eternal life now while you live, when you die, it will be too late! Those same ‘religious Christians’ also believe they will enter the Kingdom of God when they die, but according to the Bible, a person is either in the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of darkness; right now! Paul wrote in Colossian 1:13: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” (ESV) Note the tenses! Paul didn’t say: “He ‘will’ deliver us. .” He said; “He ‘has’ delivered us. . .” Paul didn’t say that God ‘would transfer’ us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,” He said that God ‘has transferred’ us to the kingdom of His dear Son! The sad reality is the most Christians are not aware of this awesome reality! They have placed their hope in a delayed lay-a-way plan wherein they only hope to receive eternal life and enter into the Kingdom of God; after they die, in the sweet by-and-by! But that is NOT what the Bible teaches! The good news of the Gospel is that those who believe in Jesus, have eternal life; right now! Those who believe in Jesus are in the Kingdom of God; right now!

Well, what is ‘eternal’ or ‘everlasting’ life? As stated earlier, although the literal meaning talks about the length of life, the biblical emphasis is not on the length of life, but rather on the quality of life. Jesus, who is the Life, gave this definition in his high priestly prayer in John 17:1-3, where we read: “Jesus spoke these things, looked up to heaven, and said: ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you gave him authority over all flesh, so that he may give eternal life to everyone you have given him. This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent– Jesus Christ.” (Jn. 17:1-3 CSB17) According to Jesus, eternal life is knowing the only true God and the one He sent – Jesus Christ! Now, we should note at this point, that ‘knowing’ in the Bible does not signify a mere intellectual exercise, but ‘know’ or ‘knowing’ in the Bible, denotes an intimate close relationship! (Such as in: “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain. . .” Gen. 4:1 KJV) Therefore, Jesus defined eternal life as an intimate relationship with God the Father, through His Son; Jesus Christ! Eternal life only comes through and by way of the One who said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn. 14:6 CSB17) Do you really ‘know’ Jesus? If you do, then you have eternal life right now! This eternal life is the life Jesus came to give, according to John 3:16 and John 10:10. Eternal life is Jesus living His life through us by way of the Holy Spirit, according to the Apostle Paul’s words recorded in Galatians 2:20.

Oh fellow believers! We have such a great salvation, but the sad reality is that too many believers die with most of their food still on their plates! They die without ever scratching the surface of the depth of provisions God had for them in this life! They are like the story I read about a couple who saved all of their money to pay for a cruise. They had never been on a cruise before! In fact, prior to this cruise, they had never even left their small home town! Well, after they boarded the ship, during the entire cruise, they never ventured out of their room! Every day, they sat in their room, eating the sandwiches they had packed, looking out of their windows at the ocean and at other people who were enjoying themselves on the ship. Since, they never ventured out of their room, when the captain learned of their absence from all of the ship’s functions and festivities, so he sent a steward to check on them, for he feared they might have died during the voyage! When the steward knocked on their door, he was amazed to discover the couple had been happily secluded in their room for the entirety of the cruise! He asked them why they had not partaken of the amenities and festivities of the ship. The couple replied that they couldn’t afford it! The steward asked to see their tickets and after inspecting their tickets, he was almost speechless! He explained to the couple that when they paid for their tickets, every meal, every amusement, every show, and every amenity was also included in the price of their tickets! The sad reality was, by the time the couple discovered this, the cruise was over and the ship was returning to port!

Well, that’s the way it is with many Christians today! They have packed their lunch and they are eating in their rooms because they believe their only reward will come after they die and go to Heaven! They have not read Romans 8:32, where the Apostle Paul said: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (KJV) They don’t realize that over two thousand years ago, every blessing was bought and paid for on Calvary’s Cross! The Apostle Peter reported: “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Pet. 1:3 CSB17) Yes! Everything we need for this life, God has already provided! It’s all included in ‘eternal life!’ Jesus said: “So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat? ‘ or ‘What will we drink? ‘ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matt. 6:31-34 CSB17) Freedom from worry and anxiety is included in eternal life! Seeking the Kingdom of God and his righteousness is eternal life! All these things (the things we need in life) being added is included in eternal life! What is eternal life? Eternal life is the abundant life! It is the life of intimate communion, fellowship, and relationship with God the Father through Jesus the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit, who resides in every believer! When is eternal life? Eternal life is now . . .and later!

Earning Wings?

As I write this, first of all, I don’t want to come across as being flippant, disrespectful, or insensitive to those who have died or to those they left behind. My aim is not to agitate but rather to educate. With that being said, let me get into what stimulated me to write this post.

I was perusing my Facebook page the other day when I ran across this post of someone commenting about a person who had recently died. I was particularly arrested by their suggestion that the person who had died had; ‘earned their wings!’ Now, this was not the first time I had seen that comment, for across the years, I had read it too many times for me to count! Perhaps, this time for me was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back! At any rate, I felt the need to write this post to address this erroneous idea.

There are basically three errors that are inherent in the notion that when a person dies they have ‘earned their wings.’ First of all, the idea of ‘earning’ is completely opposite of biblical teaching. The Bible teaches that salvation cannot be earned, but rather is the result of God’s unmerited divine favor, known as grace! The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church; “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9 NKJ) Therefore, there is nothing we can ‘earn’ because everything we receive from God is by God’s grace! The Old Testament Prophet Isaiah wrote: “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags. .”  (Isa. 64:6 NKJ) [in the Hebrew text, ‘filthy rags’ is a reference to a woman’s menstrual cloth!] The best we have to offer in regard to earning merit with God is utterly repugnant!

Secondly, where did this idea that we will get ‘wings’ when we die come from? (I wrote about this false notion more extensively in another post: Forever Human). Perhaps it comes from a misunderstanding of a statement Jesus made to the Sadducees in regard to marriage after death. Jesus said: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.” (Matt. 22:30 NKJ) Men will be ‘like angel’ in that there will be no marriages, not like angel as in being of the same class of being as angels. And where did we get the idea that angels have wings? The only biblical reference to angelic creatures having wings is in Isaiah 6. If you read carefully, you will note that these creatures were not ordinary angels, but are specifically named as: Serephim. There is no record in the Bible of ordinary angels having wings! In addition to that, a careful and correct reading of the Bible will reveal that the function of angels is to minister to the heirs of salvation. (Hebrews 1:13-14) Therefore, for humans to become angels at death is a demotion rather than a promotion! In God’s hierarchy, angels are beneath us, not above us!

Lastly, I also talked about this more extensively in another post (All Dogs ‘Don’t’ Go To Heaven), but it does not matter how much suffering a person went through on earth, that does not qualify them for Heaven! I know we would like to think that all of our loved-ones and friends are at peace in Heaven, but the biblical truth of the matter is all of them are not! Everybody who has died is not resting in peace! The only thing that qualifies a person for Heaven is a correct relationship with God through Jesus Christ!

I know we say things like this in an effort to comfort the bereaved, but I think it does more harm than good when the comfort is based on false hope! Therefore, as we seek to comfort those who are bereaved, let us be careful to give them real comfort from the Word of God and not false comfort from worldly ideas or Facebook theology!

Forever Human

It was a beautiful service, with multitudes of flowers and a massive gathering of family and friends. The casket was elaborate and no expense was spared in giving the dearly departed a grand send-off! I can’t tell you the number of times  I have personally observed such an occasion. But the thing that sticks with me long after such occasions more than the memory of the beautiful flowers or the elaborate casket, is the gross biblical ignorance displayed by Christian laymen and preachers at the funeral! The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep. . . .” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 KJV) Yet, in spite of Paul’s writings and other passages in Scripture that provide insight into the state of the dearly departed, most people today are still ignorant of what the Bible says about death and the future eternal state of humanity!

You would think it was true according to what many, supposedly ‘spiritual people,’ say at funerals, but people don’t actually die because God wants or needs them in Heaven to enhance the ‘flowers of Heaven’ or to keep Him company! The Bible says; “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12 ESV) Death occurs because of sin! Not necessarily because of the particular sins of the person who died, but rather because we live in a sinful fallen world! Jesus said: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 ESV) So often, when someone dies, we attribute the death to God. We say things like: “The Lord took him!” or “It was just God’s will!” or the classic: “We loved them, but God loved them best!” (The absurdity of that statement is that we are actually implying that God loved them so much that God killed them, which is utterly ridiculous!). But, as in the case of the parable of the enemy who sowed the tares among the wheat while men slept, the truth of the matter is that when it comes to death, the real cause is; ‘An enemy has done this!” (Matthew 13:28).

But let me get back to my main purpose for writing this post! I think one of the greatest fallacies perpetrated when someone dies and on funeral occasions is the notion that people somehow turn into angels when they die! This false notion is illustrated by a depiction of the deceased, floating in the clouds with angel-wings on their backs! But there are at least two things wrong with that picture! First of all, where did we get the notion that even real angels have wings? It is certainly NOT from the Bible! The only heavenly or spiritual beings portrayed in the Bible as having wings are the Cherubim and the Seraphim! The fact that these two beings are specifically designated and their specific function indicates they are not the same as angels! Whenever and wherever angels are encountered in the Bible, they are always depicted as looking like normal men! No wings! No halos! And definitely No harps!

Secondly, angels are depicted in the Bible as ‘messengers.’ In fact, both the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated as ‘angel’ in our English Bibles actually mean; ‘messenger.’ So, in a sense, the word ‘angel’ is not actually a designation of identity, but rather a designation of function! Just like, the term that we use for the person who delivers our mail doesn’t really say anything about who they are, it just tells what they do!  It is not their identity, it is their function!  As humans, we are the object of God’s love and the crown jewels of God’s created order. Therefore, for humans to turn into angels would actually be a ‘step-down’ not a step-up! Hush! I hear you! You are saying: “But what about Psalm 8:5, where the Bible says that man was created a little lower than the angels?” Well, the word that is translated as ‘angels’ in that verse is not the same Hebrew word that is translated as; ‘angel’ everywhere else in the Old Testament. In just about every other place in the Old Testament, where we see the word ‘angel’ or ‘angels’ in our English Bibles, the Hebrew word is ‘malek’ which means; messenger or representative. But in Psalm 8:5, the Hebrew word is ‘elohim’ which is actually the term used to refer to Yahweh God (the LORD God) or gods! Thus, what the Psalmist actually said was that man was made, not a little lower than ‘angels’ but rather a little lower than God! Therefore, for humans to become angels at death would be a demotion rather than a promotion! And think about it! If it was God’s intention for humans to become angels, why did God make them human? He could have made them angels in the first place! But God made angels to be angels forever and humans to be humans forever!

 We are forever human! In fact, the Bible states that the dearly-parted will one day come back to earth to reclaim their total humanity! (see1 Corinthians 15:13-29; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) [I use the term; ‘total’ because, according to the Genesis account, man was created as a union of spirit and body. Therefore, absence of a body, makes the dearly departed somewhat incomplete and not their total selves!] That’s what the Resurrection is all about; to reunite the spirit/soul with the body! For if we read the Bible carefully, we will discover that the redeemed will not spent eternity in the Heavenly realm in a spiritually disembodied state as the dearly departed are now, but rather on the earth in glorified bodies! (see Revelation 21:1-5) Notice the wording of the Revelation text, particularly verse 3 where John says: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. (Rev. 21:3 ESV) It is repeated three times in just one verse; the emphasis is not on man being with God, but rather John wants us to know the plan is for God to spend eternity with us! Why? Because that’s the way God made us! God did not create man to dwell in Heaven, God created man to dwell on the earth. When Adam communed with God, Adam didn’t go to Heaven to see God, but rather God came down to earth; to the garden to commune with Adam; the being God made to be forever human!

Sleep: The Practice of Death and Alternative Reality

Have you ever considered the fact that every time we go to sleep, we are in a sense, dead to the world? I mean, think about it: When we are asleep, we are not aware of anything that is happening around us, and life as we know it, goes on without us! When we are asleep, we do not participate in any of the activities or functions of people who are awake! When we are asleep, we are totally unaware of the world around us. So, in a sense, when we are asleep; we are dead!

However, during sleep, while we may be ‘dead to the world,’ we are by no means in a state of total unconsciousness! The medical community says we don’t go to sleep without dreaming. I read one report that said everyone is thought to dream 3 to 6 dreams each night with each dream lasting from 5 to 20 minutes! The report also said that about 95 percent of the dreams are forgotten by the time a person gets out of bed and that dreaming can help a person learn and develop long-term memories.

Think about it! Not only are we dead to the world every time we go to sleep, but also, every time we go to sleep, we participate in and experience an alternate reality! Yes! We participate and experience! The report said; we don’t remember 95 percent of our dreams, but the 5 percent we do remember often have a lingering effect upon us after we wake up! Have you ever had a dream that you were falling and you woke up in a cold sweat; screaming and clutching the sheets? If you were not alone, someone probably assured you that everything was all right and that you should go back to sleep because it was ‘only a dream.’ But when you were experiencing it, it didn’t ‘feel’ like it was ‘only a dream’ to you! It wasn’t like you were in a movie theater or just watching television. No! You weren’t merely watching it; you were experiencing it! You were an active participant! You had stake in how things turned out; so much so that your body reacted in the same way it would if you actually had that experience during your conscious waking hours!

Now, I don’t know about you, but in the dreams I remember, I was always able to do things I could not possibly do in my waking conscious state. For instance, in one particular dream, I was able to move from one location to another in a matter of seconds by just thinking! I was able to fly and do other things that were physically impossible to do in my conscious state. The weird thing about it was that in my dreams, I didn’t think of those things as impossibilities, they were normal, because in my dreams, I was actually doing them!

Now before you brand me as a heretic or as being unstable, I’m qualifying what I’m about to say as just musing. But what if the lyrics of the song: “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” are more true than we realize? What if this life, as we consciously experience it for 70 years or so, is merely ‘but a dream?’ What if, when we close our eyes for the final time and experience physical death, at that point ,we wake up to real life and discover this life was but a dream? Only time will tell, because those who have actually experience it don’t come back to tell; it’s a one-way journey! But in the meantime, every night and every time we go to sleep; we are practicing death and experiencing alternative realities.