What Does It Mean for the Kingdom of Heaven to Draw Near?
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What does it even mean for the kingdom of heaven to draw near? Growing up in Christian circles, I’ve heard that phrase often, but I never paused to consider what it might mean, until recently.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 3:2
John the Baptizer first preached those words and later, after he was baptized, Jesus proclaimed the same message, often, as quoted throughout the Gospels.
According to Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, the terms, “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” are synonyms, as evidenced by how the same sayings of Jesus are quoted by Mark and Luke as “kingdom of God”, but by Matthew as “kingdom of heaven”. The reason is because devout Jews, in an effort not to misuse the name of God (breaking the third commandment), would use circumlocutions (alternate words). The word, heaven, is one such circumlocution for the name of God. For an example of how it is used interchangeably in the scriptures, see Luke 15:18, 21
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”
With that said, my next question would be, what is meant by the word, kingdom?
Both the Old and New Testaments refer to the word, kingdom, as the rule and reign of a king, (1.) and not usually a territory. So kingdom of heaven can be understood to mean, “rule of God”.
This makes sense to me, in light of scriptures such as, Mark 10:15, “receive the kingdom of God like a little child”. And Matthew 6:33 says, “seek first his kingdom”.
So now, I’ll move onto another question. Is the kingdom of heaven present or future tense? With Jesus’ Incarnation, the promises of the Old Testament were fulfilled. Jesus came to this world, over 2,000 years ago. He lived, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven where he rules and reigns at the right hand of God (mark 16:19). The rule of God is working within the lives of all who draw near to Jesus. The kingdom of heaven is here, right now.
The kingdom of heaven is also in the future. Its final consummation has not yet happened. We have so much to look forward to. The world is not yet as it will be, as God created it to be. Jesus will come again, for the last time, and those who claim Him as their Lord and Savior will rule and reign with him, where the streets have no name.
In the meantime, we’re in the in-between. If we want the kingdom of heaven to draw near, right now, what do we do? We admit that we cannot do anything. We accept that we are desperate, that we are, every one of us, sinners, and that there is no way, but by the grace of God, through his son Jesus, that we can be saved. We accept the forgiveness offered to us and turn away from our sins out of love for the One who loved us first, for his glory. We allow the Spirit of God to change us. We accept the rule of God in our lives. He will not force it. Our obedience is an act of freely given love.
“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18
The hard part is admitting that we are desperate. As Philip Yancey said, in the quote at the beginning, this is not something humans readily accept. We all know that those who are Christians still sin. When we do, instead of turning away from God in shame, let us be reminded of our desperate need for Jesus, thanking him for his forgiveness and once again, turning away from those sins.
The kingdom of heaven is with us now and the kingdom of heaven is yet to come.