Have You Joined the Kingdom of Heaven?

By GARY ALLEYFebruary 2013

In the past century of Western Christianity, it has been quite common to use the labels, “saved,” “believer,” or “born again.”  While salvation, belief, and spiritual rebirth are significant in the New Testament, they were not necessarily how Jesus would most typically preach his message.  We have no examples of Jesus leading people in the “sinner’s prayer”, but we do see him leading them into the kingdom of heaven.

It is good to remember that when Jesus began his ministry, his first words were “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is here (Mt 4:17).”  This idea of a kingdom—“kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God”—appears more than 65 times in the words of Jesus.   It is found throughout the life of Jesus within his miracles, parables, and teachings.  Even after his resurrection, Jesus spent forty days further instructing his disciples about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).  Without doubt, “the kingdom” was Jesus’ most emphasized subject. 

But what was the kingdom of heaven?  While there are some allusions within Jesus’ words to a future, coming kingdom, the definitive meaning and impact of his kingdom is immediate (Mt 3:2; Mk 1:15).  With Jesus’ ministry the kingdom of heaven had arrived (Lk 10:11), is growing (Mt 13:33), and is overcoming the stronghold of Satan—sickness and disease (Mt 12:25-29).  The citizens of the kingdom of heaven are the poor, the humble, the broken, and the repentant (Mt 5:3; 18:1-4; 21:31).  Most emphatically, the kingdom’s miraculous healings of the sick and disabled are prophetic signs of God’s power to change lives (Lk 11:20; Mt 4:23; Lk 8:1; Mt 10:7).

This is the “good news” of the kingdom.  When Jesus sent out his disciples proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven is here, he gave them power and authority to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and drive out demons (Mt 10:5-8; Lk 9:1-2).  The good news of the kingdom is the explosion of God’s goodness and mercy that penetrates people’s hurting lives.

But God needs us to extend his loving reign.  When we decide to follow Jesus as master and Lord, we join the kingdom of heaven and its obligations of discipleship.  We are drawn to share our lives with the sinner, the sad, the cynic, and the insolvent.  We realize that we are no better than those we are trying to help, but since we have chosen to enter the kingdom of heaven, God promises the Holy Spirit to transform us, strengthen us, and encourage us.

Joseph Frankovic wrote,

The Bible indicates that God remains active among two groups of people: (1) among those who have made him king, and (2) among the poor, the captive, the infirm, and the downtrodden.  A principal objective of the first group is to emulate God, and to emulate our heavenly Father means extending a hand of friendship, assistance, redemption, and love to the second group.  This constitutes the major thrust of the work of the kingdom of heaven.  To those who dedicate themselves to his redemptive agenda and commit to mending a hurting world, God gives his Holy Spirit for empowerment and the ongoing expansion of his kingdom (cf. Lk 4:18-19, Acts 2:38 and 5:32).[1]

Even though Jesus never offered to lead someone in a prayer of salvation, the kingdom of heaven that he preached characterized much of what encompasses the “sinner’s prayer”—repenting of sins, humbly confessing brokenness, choosing now to obey God’s commands, and becoming a disciple of Jesus.  Even more, let us not forget that the kingdom of heaven is about God using us to change and mend our world—especially among the poor, the defenseless, the sick, and the abused—through prayer, healing, and action.

[1] Frankovic, Joseph.  The Kingdom of Heaven.  Jerusalem Bible Class Series.  (Tulsa: HaKesher, Inc, 1998), 35-36.