The kingdom of heaven is one of the more difficult Christian concepts to grasp, though Jesus described it often. Christ made it clear that the Kingdom of Heaven operates by spiritual rules related to those found on earth. He told the barest minimum in order that we may long for it without knowing precisely how it will be. One cannot know how the house will really look from blueprints until it is built.
Of course, the kingdom of heaven will be the summation of our best hopes and dreams, but even we don’t know how far those extend with all the implications. The cost of entry was paid by Christ, but many dangers lie along the road toward the kingdom of heaven. Some of the ones who thought they were best qualified to enter will find themselves beating their fists outside the door, never to enter in to the joy of their Lord.
This Life Compared with That Life
John the Baptist proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of heaven like a medieval town crier. Even now, future leaders sent their PR managers and teams of administrative officials to bear the news about themselves and their future accomplishments in the press. Jesus sent His teams of weeping prophets and suffering messengers for centuries before having John the Baptist do the final proclamations about His kingdom – and John got beheaded for his assignment. Like our earthly rulers, the Heavenly King requires everything from His followers, only He offers much more in rewards than they ever can – eternal life.
The kingdom of heaven is mirrored partly by earthly kingdoms, who begin in violence and struggle before gaining peace – assuming they ever do. Goodness is always under attack (Matthew 11:12). Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem, “the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!” (Matthew 24:37), shows that violence is not an end of itself, but the consequence of evil. The birthing process of the kingdom of heaven begins with tears, but ends in joy. The Beatitudes of Matthew 5, with the inheritors of the kingdom of heaven being the poor in spirit and the persecuted, show that suffering previews The great difference between earthly and heavenly joy is that when we get to heaven, we won’t have to continually fight to keep a slim grasp on hope and faith; we will be living with them as an ever-present reality.
The patriarchs will also be a reality. It’s comforting to know that the Old Testament celebrities such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will have a real presence in the future kingdom of heaven, just as Jesus said they would (Matthew 8:11). The parables of the sower, the wheat and tares, the mustard seed, the leaven, the pearl, and the dragnet (Matthew 13) show that the same process of growth and sacrifice apply there as here. The kingdom starts out small, and ends up huge. It’s so valuable and all-consuming that no one would care that they’re every earthly resource would be swallowed up in its purchase.
Just like in harvest, the sorting process is always at the end, when those who are allowed to enter part ways with those who get cast into the other kingdom. However, the cycles of growth and sacrifice and harvest will end; there will be no more ups and downs. One of the best parts about heaven will be that we can celebrate the way we really want to, without having to think at the end of a wedding or harvest or birth, “that was so wonderful, but now comes the hard part”. We will never again be suspicious of the after-effects of joy. Only joy will remain!
Hope That Is Seen Is Not Hope (Romans 8:24)
Most of our longings are for things that are invisible, though their effects are as evident as wind whipping through the tree leaves – or a mother’s love. One can only see the effects of real but invisible attributes. Faith, love, mercy, goodness, truth – physical things that are desired aren’t really what we’re after. No one truly desires a car because of its metal and oil that move in mysterious ways; they desire to display it, or the freedom it provides. No one desires to host a wedding because of the tulle and lace and all of the coordination of relatives that are involved. Much of the joy in the event comes because of the conclusion. Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22 is particularly apt. Weddings are one of the few things, as is pointed out in Fiddler on the Roof, that excites us on all levels. They are a reason for feasting, they are a reason for wine (as in the wedding at Cana), and the bride and groom’s union can bring about the creation of new life.
Greatest Parts About Heaven
Revelation is one of the greatest books for really seeing how heaven will be. Chapters 4 and 5 have a vivid description of the beauty and jeweled tones of the heavenly throne and the glorious One sitting on it. Part of our joy there will be simply worshiping the Lamb with those who also give him honor and allegiance, in a way that makes an earthly church service look grey and dingy. (And no one will sing off-key.)
Another joy is that we won’t return to plagues and wars, the beasts and the dragon and the scarlet woman of Babylon, and all the heartache and death that they cause. The martyrs will no longer cry, the Lamb will no longer be wrathful because the Great Multitude “of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” (in chapter 7) will be praising Him. The best part of Jesus being on the earth will be re-created in glorious color, without the hateful shouting and crucifixion remembered at every communion.
Those unwilling or malicious who were invited, and rejected the message, will be given justice for their evil. (Justice is clearly one of the elements in the kingdom of heaven, as can be seen in Matthew 24:45-51, where Jesus describes the evil servant being cut in two for his torture of his fellow servants.) There is great rejoicing in Revelation 19 over God’s righteous judgments against evil, and the avenging of His fallen saints.
The New Jerusalem of Revelation 21, “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (verse 2) is the epitome of future joys. New heaven, new earth, Satan is bound and his armies defeated, is a glorious prospect: no tears, no death, no sorrow, no pain. There will be no need for earthly light that fluctuates, since “the Lamb is its light” (verse 23), and no more lies. Only truth and justice and mercy forever.
Difficulties of Entry to the Kingdom of Heaven
Being as conscientious as the scribes and Pharisees will not be enough to allow you access. If the people who spent their lives and resources studying this kingdom and all its aspects, will be denied access – who then can be saved?
Firstly, no one will enter in who only mouths the words. Christ makes it clear in Matthew 7:21-23 that some will think they have attained the kingdom of heaven, having said “Lord, Lord” but refusing to do the Father’s will. Their activities are flawless; prophesying, casting out demons, speaking the name of the Lord with every sign they display – but the illusory relationship is only one way.
Secondly, there are requirements for getting in, and quite a few will be left out. Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish virgins, centered around the joy and celebration of a wedding, clearly shows that faithful preparation is required to enter the kingdom. This will be part of our joy in heaven; that for which you do not labor, you do not appreciate it. Jesus further makes clear that the entering of the kingdom is given by the bridegroom, who allows some in and some He casts out, even when some have “borne the burden and the heat of the day” and others have not, as in the parable of the denarius-minded workers in the vineyard. (Matthew 20)
Thirdly, it doesn’t take a scholar to see that when Jesus says things about the way being narrow, “few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14), and His five assertions in Matthew about those rejected from the kingdom who will be cast into darkness with “weeping and gnashing of teeth”…. that means it will be hard but worthwhile to walk the narrow road that He requires. It’s no wonder that Jesus had so many parables about financial matters; investments often take a great deal of time to turn into anything worthwhile, whether they’re olive trees or children that take twenty years to produce good fruit.
Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13:36 – 43) seems to summarize of all of His parables on the kingdom of heaven. The Son of Man is the only sower of good seed – the Devil sows his own wicked seed that will be burned. The angels are given the job of sorting out those who haven’t kept the laws of the kingdom. The righteous who have suffered, in growing alongside the tares, will have the joys of perpetual light with their Father in heaven.
Bring on the crowns of life.