Monday, 25 July 2011

The Kingdom of heaven

What is the kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven? Lots of people think it is where Christians go when they die, but this is a common misunderstanding which can have dire consequences on an individual's Christian life as well as the life of the Church. Let me quote Tom Wright formerly Bishop of Durham in his excellent book "For all the Saints" which I have just finished reading:

"Jesus taught his followers...to pray that God's Kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven. The phrase always refers, in the New Testament, not to a place but to a fact: not to the place ('heaven') where God rules, but to teh fact that God rules as King. This Kingdom - perhaps Kingship would be a better word for it - was longed for by many Jews of Jesus' day, not in the way that some people long 'to die and go to heaven', but in the way that people long to get rid of a bullying tyrant and be ruled by a wise, just, caring government. 'God's Kingdom' was the new fact about teh world, the 'age to come' that would break into 'the present age' and innaugurate a new world, not far away in a disembodied 'heaven' but right here on this earth, which God always claimed as its creator and which, one day, he would reclaim as its Lord.

The early Christians all believed that this new age had begun decisively with Jesus. The Kingdom was really present where he was: 'If I by God's finger cast out demons,' he had said, 'then God's Kingdom has come upon you!' (Luke 11:20). His death and resurrection had completed this work of inauguration, in answer to the prayer he himself had taught his followers. 'All authority,' said the risen Jesus in Matthew 28:18, 'has been given to me in heaven and on earth'. Throughout the New Testament the whole point of God's Kingdom is that it is God's future reality intended not simply for 'heaven' but also for 'earth'". (pages 58-59)

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