Book Excerpt: The River of Life
Some Christians today imagine the Kingdom of Heaven as a place that exists up above the clouds, but it is not. Only in the gospel of Matthew will you see this phrase used. Out of respect for the name of God this one Bible writer merely substituted the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” for “Kingdom of God.” But in every reference in the Bible, the Kingdom of God exists not up in the sky, but down here on earth. It refers to the age of God’s rule on earth—an age promised by the prophets of old, that was to be inaugurated by the arrival of the Messiah.
Christians in the first century believed that this Messiah was Jesus. Indeed, the most pointed difference between Christianity and other Judaic sects was merely this: Christians claimed the Messiah had come. Christians were Messianists. They were perceived as a messianic sect, venerating a messianic figure. You can see why the title “Christian” was at first considered derogatory; how laughable to think that the failed coup Jesus attempted could earn him the status of the Jewish Messiah!
But that is precisely what Christians were saying. Somehow, they insisted, in a manner quite unlike what traditional Judaism thought their Messiah would do, Jesus did set the world on the right course. The age of God’s rule did begin. Jesus, they insisted, began the transformation of the world from disorder and chaos into righteousness and justice.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray not that they would go to heaven, but that the Kingdom of God would come down from heaven and infiltrate the earth. The Kingdom of Heaven refers to the Kingdom of God from heaven. “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” Jesus instructed them to pray.
–The River of Life, Energion Publications, 2014 by Lee Harmon