What, Where, and When is the Kingdom? (Matthew 5:3, 10, 19, 20)
What, Where, and When is the Kingdom?
Matthew 5:3, 10, 19-20
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
January 27th, 2019
I. “A Kingdom More Bright”?
In 1917, American journalist John Reed witnessed firsthand the Communist Revolution that engulfed Russia. His book Ten Days That Shook the World is considered by most to be the best account of those politically cataclysmic events. Listen to his own reflections on this revolution, as he sat watching the mass burial of over five hundred soldiers and workers in Red Square, those who had died for the cause:
I suddenly realized that the devout Russian people no longer needed priests to pray them into heaven. On earth they were building a kingdom more bright than any heaven had to offer, and for which it was a glory to die.
Unfortunately, Reed never saw how history took issue with his idealistic pronouncement. He died in 1920, never witnessing the cruelty of and genocides under Stalin, the oppression of the Soviet system, and its eventual demise in the 1990’s. Given the statement above, I think it would be fair to say that John Reed knew very little about heaven's kingdom.
But what about you? What do you know, what do you understand about “the kingdom of heaven”? If you're interested in understanding and living in light of God's word, then this question is extremely important. You may remember that this phrase, “the kingdom of heaven”, has already appeared five times in Matthew chapter 5. So just as we did last week, I thought it would be good, before we go any further into Jesus 'mountain message' (trad. The Sermon on the Mount), to make sure we understand this idea of the kingdom.
So if you haven't already, please turn over to Matthew 5.
II. The Passage: "For Theirs is the Kingdom" (5:3, 10, 19-20)
To begin this morning, let's simply look at the five places in Matthew 5 where Jesus talked about “the kingdom of heaven”. Let me read those verses; that's verses 3, 10, 19 and 20. Listen again to what Jesus tell us here:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (5:3)
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (5:10)
“Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (5:19, 20)
So hopefully you can get a sense from those verse of just of how important this idea is. Did you notice that those statements, traditionally called “the Beatitudes”, are bracketed in verses 3 and 10, by that same phrase, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”? That's why I prefer to call them “kingdom consolations”.
And did you see how verse 20 connects our study this week to our study last week? The exceeding righteousness we need, is righteousness required for entrance into “the kingdom of heaven”. So again, this is not a peripheral idea. This is absolutely foundational to everything Jesus shares in this 'mountain message'.
But this simply brings us back to the main question: “What is the kingdom of heaven?” Or we could expand that and ask, “What, where, and when is the kingdom of heaven?”. To answer those questions, let's consider what this book tells us about this central themse. So, here we go; four things Matthew's Gospel tells us about the kingdom of God. First, it tells us about...
1. The Now-ness of the Kingdom
Even before Jesus arrives on the scene, Matthew tells us that John the Baptizer came with a kingdom message (3:2). In fact, it was the same message, Jesus announced when he began to preach in 4:17. In fact, it was the same message that Jesus instructed his apostles to proclaim in 10:7. What was that message? It was “repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
In both Matthew 9:35 and 24:14, this message is called the “gospel of the kingdom”. It was the Good News that the kingdom of heaven had arrived, that it had come, that it was breaking in. In Matthew 12:28, Jesus pointed to just one of many signs of its arrival: But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
But what does that mean? How had the kingdom come? Well that brings us to a second point. Matthew also tells us about the...
2. The Highness of the Kingdom
As you may know, the word “highness” is a word used to address a queen or a king (for example, “Her highness, the Queen of England”. That's exactly how I'm using the word this morning, in reference to the King. How had the kingdom come? Well, in a profound way, it came through the coming of its king.
Turn back for just a second to the opening section of Matthew's Gospel. Scan over those first seventeen verses. What do we have there? We have a royal genealogy revealing that Jesus was, in fact, in line for the throne of David. If we continue into the second half of chapter 1, then into chapter 2, we hear Joseph addressed as “son of David”, we read about magi searching for the “king of the Jews”, we hear about the prophecy of Micah, predicting a ruler who would come from Bethlehem, we we read about King Herod's feelings regarding rivals, and we see the magi presenting to the baby Jesus, gifts fit for a king.
Now, if we move from the beginning of Matthew's Gospel to the end of Matthew's Gospel, we find this same theme in Matthew 27.
Four times in Matthew 27, Jesus is addressed as “king of the Jews” or “the king of Israel”. Yes, some of these are said in a spirit of skepticism or mockery. But even still, these serve as brackets, along with chapters 1 and 2. These “king of the Jews” bookends bracket what is revealed throughout Matthew's Gospel about the authority of Jesus. Even Jesus, in Matthew 25, explicitly identifies the “Son of Man” as “the King”, the King who will sit in judgment over all the nations.
So Jesus arrival onto the scene in Matthew 3 & 4 marks the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. But I think another important question to ask has to do with Jesus' listeners: what did they know of or believe about the coming king and his kingdom? Well, that brings us to a third point. Matthew's Gospel also teaches us about...
3. The Unexpectedness of the Kingdom
In chapter 13 of this book, Jesus tells a number of parables that help us understand more about the nature of the kingdom of heaven. In verse 11, he calls these “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven”. Starting in verse 24 Jesus gives pairs of parables that reveal the following:
The kingdom of heaven does not mean the immediate overthrow of the unrighteous. Instead, genuine believers will be mixed in with so-called believers and unbelievers until the final judgment. That much is clear from the parable of the weeds and the parable of the net.
Jesus also reveals that the kingdom of heaven is something that starts small, something that seems insignificant, that has almost hidden beginnings, but over time, will grow; and will continue to grow until it's influence is felt throughout creation. The parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the leaven drive that point home.
Finally, in both the parable of the treasure and the parable of the pearl, Jesus reveals that the incomparable value of the kingdom of heaven should drive us to sacrifice whatever is necessary to obtain it. Kingdom blessings involved surrender, not just victory.
Now, why are these descriptions of the kingdom of heaven important? Because they were correctives for those listening to Jesus, including his own disciples. This is not what they expected. Remember, they imagined the coming king, the Son of David, would usher in his kingdom with pomp and circumstance, with messianic splendor, with military power and prowess, and soon after, with political freedom and global supremacy.
This is so important to understand when you read the Gospels. So much of Jesus' ministry involved correcting common ideas about, popular perspectives on, what it would mean for the Messiah to come and reign over Israel. These popular ideas were so entrenched, and so shaped by human sinfulness, that both John and Jesus began their proclamations of the kingdom with the same word: “Repent!”
The unexpectedness of the kingdom was evident in so many ways. In Matthew 18, talk about being greatest in the kingdom led Jesus to, counter-intuitively, exalt the humility of a child. In Matthew 20, talk about being greatest in the kingdom led Jesus to, counter-intuitively, exalt servanthood over power.
In Matthew 19:24, Jesus shattered their ideas about wealth and power and blessing by declaring, “...I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
(a quick side note: “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” are interchangeable terms)
In Matthew 21:31, Jesus shattered their ideas about holiness, about piety, when he announced to the religious leaders, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”
In fact, later that same chapter, in Matthew 21:43, Jesus announces the shift that would take place away from what we might call 'political Israel'... “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.”
But this connects us to one more truth about the kingdom of heaven, one more idea Matthew's Gospel emphasizes. In this book, Jesus also tells us about...
4. The Not-Yet-Ness of the Kingdom
Even though Jesus emphasized the fact that the kingdom of heaven was “at hand”, he also spoke this way when describing the reward of that final judgment: Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”. (Matthew 25:34)
In the next chapter, Jesus speaks about the kingdom at that last supper in the upper room: “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29) Earlier in his ministry, Jesus also spoke of that day to come: “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven”
Clearly, all of this has to do with the future, with what is 'not yet'; with what is to come. Interestingly, Jesus gave a few of his disciples a preview of what this 'not yet' would look like. He told them in Matthew 16:28... “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” So what happens in the next few verses? Jesus takes “some” of his disciples and goes up on a mountain and, Matthew 17:2, ...he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
Before they tasted death, Jesus was giving them a taste of what everyone will eventually see when the Messiah comes in his kingdom, with the kind of power and triumph and glory that many of Jesus' listeners were expecting right away. Actually, what Jesus promises is far better than any of their worldly conceptions.
So in light of all this, what might we say about the “the kingdom of heaven”? I think we can say, the kingdom of heaven is both a present, life-altering reality in which God reigns over his people, through his anointed, Jesus, and a future, world-altering reality, in which Jesus' reign is fully realized, resulting in judgment for his enemies and eternal rest for his followers. (2x)
III. Getting Transferred
So what does all this mean for you? One danger related to the study of God's word is that we feel satisfied when we have simply understood what an idea means, but not also what it means for me and my life today. How should this big idea called the kingdom of heaven make a big impact in your everyday life? Well, here are few basic ideas I'd like you to mull over:
First, the kingdom of heaven calls us to a daily discipline of regime change. Paul tells us in Romans 10 that confessing “Jesus as Lord” is critical to being right with God. But if we think about that confession for a minute, it's clear, in light of everything we've learned this morning, that that is a 'kingdom confession'. “Jesus is Lord, Jesus is King, and I am not.” And to live each day in the kingdom involves living out that confession. It means daily submission to the kingdom's good, and gracious, and great King. Do you wake up with that outlook.
Second, the kingdom of heaven means having an embassy/ambassador mentality when it comes to the surrounding culture. Can you imagine what it would have been like if you grew up in some far off country, as the child of an ambassador? You would live with a kind of tension, wouldn't you? Everyday you would be in school, you would be in the markets, you would watch TV and play at the park and do so many other everyday things as part of that host culture. But at the embassy you would learn about your true home. Your mother and father would model what your place and your people were like. And their desire for you would be that you would understand the beauty of your culture and be eager to live out its values in that foreign setting. The goal would representation, not assimilation. That's the kingdom!
Third, the kingdom of heavens keeps us looking for that eventual overthrow. The clashing values of the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of this world should constantly remind us and constantly stir us to long for the return of the king and the defeat of evil. And when we believe what the word tell us about the goodness of his coming, but also about the judgment that must take place, it should sober us; it should give us a sense of urgency.
But how is all this possible? When you like your job and your coworkers, when you like your home and your community, the idea of getting transferred is a possibility you pray against. But getting transferred is precisely what we need to experience the goodness and the greatness of everything we've talked about this morning. As we finish, turn over to Colossians 1:13–14...
[Paul writes] He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Brothers and sisters, friends, the “gospel of the kingdom” was not replaced by the gospel of the cross, the gospel of grace. No. They are the same message; the same Good News. The word of the cross is the fullness of the kingdom message. Paul said in I Corinthians 12:3... no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit makes that possible.
You see, it's all by grace. By God's grace we are transferred into the kingdom of heaven. By grace we turn from our deceptive and destructive desire for self-rule and confess Christ as king. By grace we live daily as strangers in a strange land. By grace we share the message with others. And by grace we wait patiently for the King's return. And if we understand that, it should drive us to prayer. Let's ask God to work in us, by his grace, that we would look to, and live out, and long for the kingdom of heaven.