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Is The Kingdom Of Heaven A Place?

Part 1

In the Gospel of Matthew alone, Jesus mentions the kingdom of God/Heaven over 50 times, which is about 1.5 times per page of the 28 chapter Gospel of Matthew. So it's clearly important.

But what is it?

Well, in the history of Western interpretation, we think of that phrase as indicating a place. The Greek and Hebrew words though (Greek basileia, and Hebrew mamlakah), refer to an activity, an action—the rule or the reign of a king over a people. The "reign of the king" is the same thing as saying the "kingdom of the king".

To help understand that, think of words with -dom attached: boredom, freedom, martyrdom, stardom. As boredom is a state of being bored, kingdom is a state of being ruled - a state of being under someone's rule.

So when Jesus says, "The kingdom of God is here" (and He uses the phrase "kingdom of heaven" synonymously with "the kingdom of God"), you could translate that as "the reign of God is here".

Now, what does it mean for Jewish prophet to come onto the scene 2,000 years ago, saying, "The rule of God has arrived?"

Has God not been ruling? What does it mean for the reign of God to arrive in Jesus?

Part 2

Well, we actually have to go all the way back to Genesis and look at the phrase "image of God" to really understand what it means for the reign of God to have arrived in Jesus.

If we do, we find it's not without reason that the first time the phrase the image of God is used it's directly connected to reigning: "Let us make humans in our image, after our likeness and let them rule / have dominion."

Genesis 1 then culminates in the famous lines where God says they are to "fill the earth and subdue it, rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, every other living creature that moves on the ground."

That word "rule," is one of the standard Hebrew words for what kings do - to rule or to reign. So it's depicting humans as having some royal task which connects back to the image of God.

(Psalm 8 is a is a poetic reflection on Genesis 1 and specifically humanity's role in the world as kings and rulers.)

Anyway, the image of God then is something that humans are and something that humans do. They embody and image God's rule and reign over the world. God's plan was to share His world with humans and to have His reign and His rule and His will be brought out in the world through human beings.

To be clear, the idea of ruling and subduing in Genesis 1 is about harnessing potential and guiding it towards new things that would never have just grown. It's like if you let a patch of your forest grow, it won't just self-produce a garden with tomatoes for the world. Only humans can bring that about.

And in fact, if you start thinking through the stories of the Bible, there are very few stories where God acts or does anything that doesn't happen through a human. It's not unlike the famous quote from Spurgeon:

"Prayer moves the arm that moves the world."

God doesn't need us to do anything because He is sovereign; rather He wants to do things through us.

Unfortunately though, we messed it up, and the earth has become a place where God's will is not done because we assert our will over it. We mistrusted God and tried to rule the way we wanted to and failed, miserably, for thousands of years.

Part 3

The Kingdom of Heaven is the only blessing that Jesus doesn't say "will be" had—He says the Kingdom of Heaven "is" theirs (those who are poor in spirit).

Is means now, so Jesus is saying the poor in spirit can have the Kingdom of Heaven right now. Here's how this all ties together.

We said before that the reign (kingdom) of God was fractured, so to speak. We humans tried to assert our own rule in our own way and in doing so rejected God; we didn't submit our wills to Him.

The good news Jesus came to give us is that that's over, and He announces just that: the arrival of God's reign to take back His world from us.

In other words, God Himself comes to us in the flesh and reinstates the rule of God (the Kingdom of God) by being the true image bearer on our behalf.

Jesus shows us how to be what God created us to be by emptying Himself and submitting to the Father even unto death.

He restores the image of God in us as we attach ourselves to Him (as we follow Him) more closely.

Put a different way, God becomes the human that we're made to be and then through Him (and through following Him), we become the humans that we are made to be.

Last but not least, that's where being poor in spirit comes in. Being poor in spirit is to resist the kingdoms of this world, to be humble and submit yourself to God and His rules, to let Him define good and evil, and to willingly live under His reign.

The Kingdom of Heaven is had if/when we submit ourselves to His rule by following Jesus' example.

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