This is the second blog in a series about the Kingdom of God. In the first blog found here, you can see what the term, Kingdom, means. Next, we must ask, who is a part of this Kingdom?
How Does Jesus Describe the Kingdom?
We must resist the urge to repeat pat answers that we have always heard or simply assume an answer based on one certain text. Jesus says who will be a part of this kingdom very directly a few times. For our purposes, we will just look at the book of Matthew:1
- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).
- Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10).
- For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).
- Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21).
- And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11).
- Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:47-50).
- And he said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
- “Again 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.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:23-26).
- Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:21).
- But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in (Matthew 23:13).
- And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 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. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:33-36).
If you are a little bit confused, join the club. I really thought that at least one of these would say, “Recite the sinner’s prayer and walk down an aisle and you will join the Kingdom of God.” Alas, Jesus does not make it that easy on us.
So, what do these say?
- God and his servants will decide who is in and who is not.
- Jesus intentionally avoided creating an easy formula for entering the Kingdom.
- It won’t be who you expect i.e. prostitutes, the poor in spirit, children, etc.
- You don’t get in by being a religious elite or by being wealthy.
- The righteous and those who do the father’s will are welcomed in.
Who Is In the Kingdom?
I think that my favorite story that can point us towards an answer comes from Matthew 19. A rich young man approaches Jesus and directly asks him, “What good deed must I do to inherit eternal life?” After a short interaction, the man goes away sad presumably because the answer that Jesus gave him was too difficult. The followers of Jesus look at each other and say, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looks at them and I imagine he has that gleam in his eye that parents have when they say, “maybe Santa Claus will bring you…” He then says, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” He goes on to say that all those who left their lives and families behind to follow him will be included in the Kingdom.
This story tells us some important things. First, no one receives the Kingdom except through the work of God. I believe that Jesus is intentionally foreshadowing the work he would do on the cross in this passage. They wonder, how can we ever be good enough or do enough to inherit the kingdom, and he essentially says, “You can’t, but I can.”
In the cosmic system that is the kingdom of God, you and I don’t belong. We could never be righteous enough and you have to be perfect to enter. Jesus is alluding to the fact that he pays the price with his perfect death. In fact, this is the good news or gospel of the Kingdom, that God is going to become man so that he can die for you and you can then enjoy the Kingdom that you don’t deserve.
Second, this story tells us how we accept this gift that we don’t deserve. Again here, I get hung up on words. We tend to say that those who believe in Jesus will inherit the Kingdom and with that we draw a distinction between believing and knowing. This is surely not an intellectual exercise. We know that the chair should hold us, but it is not until we sit on it that we truly believe it. I believe that the picture that Jesus paints here is even a step past belief. It must be more than even belief. I am not sure what to call this, but I like the term follow. It seems in this passage that the people who gave up everything to follow Jesus would inherit the Kingdom. So, accepting the gift of God is not based in knowledge, belief, or any other intellectual exercise but in such a deep belief that it results in following Christ. It is a belief that is so deep and strong that it is inextricably bound to action. I am not saying that this is salvation by works, but I am agreeing with James that a belief without action is no real belief at all.
So, who is in the Kingdom?
Those for whom Jesus died and who follow him.
1These are only instances where the Kingdom is directly mentioned. Of course, there are other occasions where Jesus reveals how to enter the Kingdom but does not reference it directly. Also, I did not include the addresses to these texts, but they are all from the ESV and can be googled to find them in context.