“From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matt. 4:17)
“But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20-21)
Under the confines of the gospel of salvation the kingdom of heaven is “then…in heaven,” which is part of the reason why so little attention is paid to discipling people. If more people believed “the kingdom of God had come upon them” from the moment of conversion perhaps they would be more “diligent to show themselves approved to God as workman who do not need to be ashamed” (2 Tim. 2:15). However, when you’ve been introduced to Christ via the gospel of salvation, had the doctrine drilled in to you ever since nothing can separate you from grace after you’ve “prayed the prayer,” and you live in the land of comfort and convenience where you take on a Laodicean attitude concerning the fear of God, diligence, discipline, and sacrifice why strive to be a disciple?
The Christian life for most temple worshipers consists of somehow keeping themselves spiritually safe through their journey navigating this sinful, evil world [primarily temple involvement] until they can die, leave Satan and all those earthly temptations behind, and finally go to heaven to be with Jesus. Is this the gospel Jesus preached to us? Is the kingdom of heaven “then” or is it “now”, because how we answer this question largely dictates how we live on this earth as Christians.
Before Christ came it was “then”. You will not find the words kingdom of heaven or kingdom of God in the OT, because heaven and earth were separate and there was no bridging the gap sin introduced in the garden. At the end of Hebrews 11, where many great saints of the OT are commended for their faith the Writer remarks, “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was because God had provided something better…” Earlier in the same chapter we read, “But as it is, they desired a better country—that is, a heavenly one. That “something better: the better heavenly country” was the kingdom Jesus was to open to us here on earth, and until He paid the price for sin and ushered in the Holy Spirit heaven could not connect to the kingdom of man.
But now they have, in every aspect of reality, come together as both of the verses above illustrate. The very words God put in John the Baptist’s mouth introducing the Son of Man, along with the first words He preached were, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The fact that the kingdom of heaven had come to earth wasn’t just important, it was the number one priority message God had for mankind in revealing His Son! What more does Jesus have to say than the kingdom was, from the moment He began His ministry on this earth, “At hand…Upon us?”
Jesus said we are to seek first that kingdom He came to bring, and then all other earthly matters will be taken care of (Matt. 6). If we were to try to fit this in to modern church evangelism, which tells us we must wait for heaven, it would make no sense. How then would the “things” follow the kingdom? In heaven after earth, will we be in need of any-thing? Jesus meant we were to seek the kingdom right here on earth, that all other earthly things would be taken care of. Furthermore, Jesus put praying for God’s kingdom to come at the top of the petitions in His most famous prayer. He says we are to pray His kingdom would come, and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. First we notice He says “Thy kingdom come and Thy will be done on earth.” Why waste the breath in the most repeated prayer of all history if that wasn’t going to happen? The second key word here is “as”. For two events to be happening using a present-tense word like “as” they must be happening simultaneously. How is it Jesus would have thought this so important a thing to petition God for if the kingdom were not open to us here on earth as it will be in heaven? Why would He instruct us to pray for something “now” that couldn’t possibly exist until “then”?
Finally, if the kingdom of heaven was not brought to earth in the person of Jesus, and did not remain today, why did He open eleven of His parables with “the kingdom can be compared to…?” The parables were picture stories using simple examples pulled from earthly experience to try to explain what the kingdom in heaven would be like. If that kingdom was a distant concept we didn’t need to understand or experience until we died why would Jesus attempt to use earthly, “now” concepts in the parables to describe it?
Oh yes, the kingdom of heaven has come to earth, and is here now, and we are to live as though it was! That is the singular critical message of the gospel of the kingdom. We are not to wait to go there, we are to bring it here by first believing it exists and then serving it instead of the world in our jobs, our homes, our communities and anywhere else God puts us. This is what lifestyle Christianity is all about. If you think you have been “saved” by uttering a few words and attending temple services and a Bible study now and then, but you believe you will not taste heaven until die you’re missing the smashing point of the gospel Jesus both preached and was!
The gospel of the kingdom preaches being a kingdom saint wherever and whenever we are, and seeing even the newest of converts as potential kingdom saints instead of converts to be safely warehoused on earth in our temples awaiting heaven. If I might pray with Paul “that by revelation there will be made known to you a mystery” (Eph. 3:3): the mystery of an entirely different kingdom available to anyone who believes. It is a reality we can live, preach, and bring others in to that will cause them to cease “entangling themselves in the affairs of everyday life” because they will know there is something so much better for them than what they think exists here and now in this world. They will no longer hope in financial gain, country, politics and politicians, and flitting from temple to temple trying vainly to find someone who “feeds them.” They will not find this gospel in the gospel of salvation that has them waiting for a kingdom that exists “now”, and accepting the counterfeits as to how to live the world offers them because they believe it is “then.”