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The word Kingdom is translated from the Greek word basileia, which refers to the realm of a king (gr. basil).
A common belief that many Christians have about the Kingdom of God is that it’s nothing more than a state of mind and heart. They draw this conclusion from what Jesus said, as found at Luke 17:21. According to the Greek text, he said:
‘He basileia tou Theou entos hymon estin,’
‘The Kingdom of the God in you is.’
So, was Jesus saying that God’s Kingdom will never be a real government, and it’s just something that we hold within ourselves?
Well, the conclusion that some have reached about this is that Jesus was saying that he (the king of that Kingdom) was there in their midst, and that could have been what he meant.
However, true Christians must live by the laws of God’s Kingdom first and foremost. Therefore, the Kingdom of God should also be within us!
But either way, it doesn’t appear as though Jesus was saying that the Kingdom will always just be a state of mind. For, notice what Jesus said about his Kingdom (at Luke 22:16) after eating his ‘last supper’ with his disciples:
‘I won’t eat it again until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.’
So, he was clearly saying that the Kingdom of God was to be a future thing and it is not just a frame of mind. Okay, but is this Kingdom something that will exist just in heaven? Well, many have concluded that from what Jesus said at Matthew 8:11:
‘Many from the sunrise and sunset will come and recline with AbraHam, IsaAc, and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven.’
So on the basis of this scripture, they have concluded that AbraHam, IsaAc, and Jacob are now in heaven, and that’s where God’s Kingdom is located. Is that correct?
Well, according to other words of Jesus, this is not possible, because Jesus himself said at John 3:13:
‘No one has gone to heaven other than the one that came from heaven, the Son of Man.’
How confusing! Why would Jesus say at Matthew 8:11 that those men were in heaven, but then contradict the idea in John 3:13?
Well, there’s a possibility that he never said ‘Heaven’ at Matthew 8:11. How so?The text of Matthew shows significant signs of corruption. It frequently contradicts the other Gospels of Mark and Luke, even where these Gospels were quoting the very same words of Jesus found in Matthew. This includes the phrase ‘Kingdom of Heaven’. Jesus does not say this in Mark and Luke, which instead report that Jesus said, ‘Kingdom of God.’
Because of all these contradictions, and the textual corruption in the manuscripts, as translators, we put more trust in what the other Gospel writers wrote wherever there are contradictions (and there are several).
However, does the corruption of that one word (‘Heaven’ instead of ‘God’) really make a difference? Yes, because the corrupted version makes it looks like Jesus contradicts himself by saying that AbraHam is in heaven in one place, but making that impossible in another.
Further, the original words ‘Kingdom of God’ don’t necessarily imply that the Kingdom is something that is only located in heaven. So Jesus could actually have been referring to AbraHam (and the others) being resurrected to the Earth.
Indeed, Jesus’ followers expected the Kingdom to be established on our planet. Just before his death, at Luke 19:11, we read:
‘While they were listening to these things, [Jesus] told them another illustration, because he was getting close to JeruSalem, and they all thought that the Kingdom of God was about to happen instantly.’
So from these words, it seems that Jesus’ Apostles believed that the Kingdom was going to be established then and there in JeruSalem. Notice what they asked Jesus just before he ascended into heaven (at Acts 1:6):
‘Lord, are you going to restore the Kingdom to IsraEl now?’
As you can see, in the 1st century, Jesus’ disciples weren’t looking for a ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ or for a Kingdom that would just be in their hearts. Rather, they were expecting the Kingdom of IsraEl to be re-established here on the earth with Jesus ruling as king from the literal City of JeruSalem.
So, what changed?
By the end of the 1st century, as Christians became discouraged after the deaths of the Apostles, many started believing that the Kingdom was actually going to be in heaven, since it hadn’t come to the earth. So, like the pagan peoples around them, they started to teach that the Kingdom of Heaven is the place where people go immediately after they die!
Therefore, it’s easy to see why someone may have changed the words ‘Kingdom of God’ to read ‘Kingdom of Heaven.’ Perhaps they thought they were writing much the same thing, and did not view it as a corruption, but just as a synonym, or a clarification of what Jesus ‘really meant’. For this is what many ‘Christians’ had started to believe was their eventual destiny by the beginning of the 2nd century CE.
The corruption appears in both the Greek and Aramaic versions of Matthew (and even the Hebrew version, the Shem Tob). According to Origen, the Gospel was originally written in ‘Hebrew’ (by which he likely meant Aramaic), and Christians later translated it into Greek sometime in the early 2nd century. So unknown persons must have corrupted the text sometime before the Greek translation appeared, meaning the corruption was a very early one.
Why is the Kingdom not here yet?
Yet if the Kingdom of God is really something that is going to rule the earth, why hasn’t it happened already? It’s been about 2,000 years since he said that we should expect its arrival.
However, Jesus gave us an answer to this question. He gave a parable (found at Luke 19:12-27), where he spoke about a man that would be going on a long trip to a distant land to receive his appointment as king. Clearly, the point of the parable was that he (Jesus) was to be going on a journey to receive his kingship, and that this would take a long time. Then, upon his return, he would reward his faithful slaves, and he would punish those that didn’t want him to be their king.
When would this return happen? Well, he didn’t tell us when in his parable.
However, notice what Revelation 12:10 (written around 98 CE) says would happen when he actually returns:
‘At that I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
Now has arrived the salvation and power,
As well as the Kingdom of our God;
For His Anointed has now been empowered,
And the accuser of our brothers has been cast down,
Who blames them before God day and night!’
So the distant place where Jesus went to receive his authority to be king is heaven. Thereafter, according to the Revelation, Jesus will return to establish his Kingdom here on the earth. Obviously this hasn’t happened yet. This momentous future event is what the entire book of Revelation is foretelling (see Revelation 1:10).
Then, what is the Kingdom? Well, although Christians now actually live under the rulership of Jesus in their hearts, there is to be a future period of eternal righteous rule. It will encompass ‘the lands and the skies’ (the universe) after the evil one is no longer allowed access to the presence of God (see Job 1:6) and after all opposition to Jesus’ rule has been removed from the earth.
For more information, please see the commentary, The Seed – God’s Kingdom.
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