The Kingdom of Heaven

By Simon Padbury

When our Lord Jesus Christ was brought before Pontius Pilate on trial in the judgement hall, his judge asked him a direct question: “Art thou the King of the Jews?” (John 18.33). Our Lord knew that many of the Jewish leaders had put this question into Pilate’s mouth in order to entrap Jesus into condemning himself as an insurrectionist.

It was common knowledge that both Jesus himself, and his followers, had declared him to be the Christ (or, Messiah),1 the Son of David and therefore the rightful King of Israel (see e.g. Matthew 21.1-11,15-16; John 7.40-43).2 Jesus’s rejectors used this claim against him—to get him crucified for treason against the Roman state (John 19.1-22; 34-35; 19.15). Though it was for his claim to be the Son of God that many wanted him dead (Matthew 26.59-66; John 7.42-59; 10.24-33; 19.7).

Knowing what death he would die (Psalm 22; Isaiah 53; John 12.27-33; 18.32), and in the courageous resolve of his prayer in Gethsemane to do his Father’s will (Matthew 26.36-46), Jesus unreservedly declared his own Sovereignty: “Jesus answered, Thou sayest3 that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice” (John 18.37).

Then and there Pilate, and everyone else who heard Jesus announcing his Kinghood, should have fallen down before him and worshipped him as their King—indeed, as the King of kings, over both the Jews and the Gentiles. But Pilate was an unbelieving and unjust judge. He knew very well that he had no grounds against Jesus to sentence him to either corporal or capital punishment, and for a while he tried to have Jesus released (Luke 23.4, 14; John 18.38; 19.4-12). But he eventually took this opportunity to mock and degrade both the Jews and the man they had brought before him by saying to them, “Shall I release unto you the King of the Jews?…Behold the man…Behold your King!” (John 18.39; 19.5, 14).

It was on Pontius Pilate’s orders that the Roman soldiers set Jesus in their midst, whipped him half to death with a scourge, and then crucified him (John 19.1). In addition to the torture, the soldiers dressed him in a purple robe, in parody of their own rulers, and bowed in mock homage before him as a king. Then they beat a crown of painful thorns into his scalp and spat in his face (Matthew 27.26-31; John 19.1-2). Pilate insisted on having the following as Jesus’s “accusation” (Mark 15.26), the charge against him, inscribed on a plaque and nailed on the cross for all to see: “This is JESUS the King of the Jews” (John 19.19-22).

How different was the spirit of the repentant thief on the cross. Nearing his last breath, he looked upon his suffering King and Saviour and begged him, “Lord, remember me, when thou comest into thy kingdom” (Luke 23.39-42). Though now being executed for his crime, or crimes, and with not long to remain in this world, the thief had become a changed man, born again and growing strong in his faith even while his body was growing weaker. He acknowledged that he justly deserved his own condemnation to death, but he was certain that his Messiah hanging beside him did not. Now, he would use his remaining strength to take a stand for his Lord against the curses of the other malefactor: “Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss” (Luke 23.40-41).

The converted thief understood and believed, that, after Jesus’s death, he would “come into” (i.e. inherit) his kingdom, and that he would have power over life and death. Even though he could see Jesus dying there on the cross next to him, the thief believed that this King could answer his petition and remember him from his throne in heaven, exalted by the right hand of God (see Acts 2.30, 33-35). In his dying prayer to Jesus, face to face, he humbly professed his faith that he could raise him up to everlasting life.

“And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23.43). What a comforting assurance from the lips of the Lord! He now had Christ’s word for it, confirmed with a “verily”—Jesus finished this man’s prayer with his own amen.4

We too can be sure that immediately after the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross he went to heaven, to the place he called paradise—the place of glory, beauty, pleasantness, and perfection, so unlike the scene of blood and death at Golgotha. And we can be sure that on the very same day this transformed thief did go to be with the spirits of just men made perfect, in the paradise of God, where he is even now and forever present with the Lord—with all his sins forgiven because they had been, as it were, nailed to Jesus’s cross (2 Corinthians 5.21; Colossians 2.13-15; Philippians 1.23; Hebrews 9.15; 12.22-24). The Lord put away this man’s sins by the sacrifice of himself—then and there, before his very eyes (Hebrews 9.26).

The saved thief’s King, and ours, returned to earth the third day, reuniting with his body and restoring it to life, and rising again from the tomb. Angels were the first to declare Christ’s resurrection:

“Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words” (Luke 24.1-8).

At first, the risen Messiah’s disciples were frightened, still not believing all that their own prophets or that he himself had taught them. They didn’t have the faith that the thief had! They deserved the risen Christ upbraiding them for it (Matthew 28; Mark 16.14; Luke 24.25-27; John 20.19-29). But then they came to understand, believe and proclaim these truths, and to fearlessly testify before all what they had both seen and heard (1 John 1.1-4). For example, consider this portion of the apostle Peter’s first sermon:

“Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2.22-36).

Our Lord had confirmed the same at his trial: “To this end was I born.” As the angel Gabriel proclaimed to Mary, “And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1.31-33). This same JESUS is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9.6). And in the Book of Revelation it is written, of the Church of the Old and New Testaments, “And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne” (Revelation 12.5).

The Son of David, the greater King than Solomon (Matthew 12.42), has come into his kingdom. The kingdom of the Messiah is the world and the entire universe, and everything beyond. After his resurrection, he appeared to his apostles and made this clear to them: “All power5 is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28.18). And it was from this place of total authority that the Lord Jesus Christ has given his great kingly commission to his disciples, to build his church throughout the world: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (vv.19-20). “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16.15).

Christians confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2.11). We mean by this the greatest of all Lordships: Christ is King over all the heavens and all the earth. However, to our own shame, we do not often keep this truth uppermost in our hearts, and we fail to live as though this is true. We must all enlarge our view, our appreciation, our obedience and our worship of Jesus Christ as “my Lord and my God” (compare John 20.26-29).

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Word of God, through whom all things were made. By him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And even now, he is upholding all things by the word of his power (John 1.1-3; Colossians 1.16-17; Hebrews 1.1-3).

Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. Nor is it merely political or territorial but spiritual. It is an everlasting kingdom, being built up in the world, in this present Gospel Age. And all the schemes and oppositions of Hell will fail to prevent it (Isaiah 9.6-7; Matthew 16.18; John 18.26; Hebrews 12.28; 2 Peter 1.11).

In the parables of the kingdom, Christ’s name for his Church is both a prophecy and a promise: “the kingdom of heaven.” It will eventually be co-extensive with Christ’s own mission field, namely the entire world, into which the Sower is sowing his seed and raising a great harvest of saved souls. It is the wheat-field that grows and bears a grain harvest despite the enemy’s weeds. It is the mustard seed, the least of all seeds, growing to cover the earth as a great tree. It is the leaven-starter that works through the whole batch of dough until it is all leavened. It is the treasure in the field that Jesus gave all to purchase, the pearl of great price that he paid for with his life. It is the great catch of fish in the Fisher’s net, of which he keeps the good ones. And the faithful scribes of the kingdom of heaven instruct the people with revealed truths new and old from the King’s treasury (Matthew 13.1-52).

The kingdom of heaven is on earth today, and it always will be, until Jesus returns. This is because the King preserves his people in the faith, and he preserves the faith in the Church. The true citizens of the kingdom of heaven have their “conversation6…in heaven” (Philippians 3.20)—and therefore we should keep i.e. obey Christ’s teachings and mandates and laws to us, as we bow the knee before him in this world as our King. The Lord’s people have “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,” because they have been “gathered…in him,” and by him have “obtained an inheritance” in this kingdom, and all this is “to the praise of the glory of [God’s] grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in [Jesus] the beloved” (Ephesians 1.3-14).

The spiritual kingdom of heaven will therefore continue increasing on earth, as Christ builds his Church by his Church. We look forward toward this happening; and we serve Christ in this our commission and his decree; and we pray for the fullness of the Gentiles to be brought into this kingdom and for all Israel to be saved (Romans 11.11-36).

God has “highly exalted” his only begotten Son, our Saviour, and has “given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2.9-11; see also John 5.22-23).

This is what will happen in the Messiah’s kingdom, in the world, until the end of this world. It is as his apostles came to understand: “And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15.15-17).

As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews affirms concerning the Messiah, our great High Priest: “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool” (Hebrews 10.12-13; see also Mark 16.19; Acts 5.29-32; Romans 8.34). Peter says, “Jesus Christ…is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him” (1 Peter 3.21-22).

Therefore a time is coming when, as we have it revealed in the Revelation, “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned” (Revelation 11.15-17; see also 19.16; Psalm 2).

This is how things are, and this is how things shall be. Jesus is King, and he has all authority in heaven and on earth. As the the prophet Daniel explained to the king of the Babylonian empire, Nebuchadnezzar, “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king [Nebuchadnezzar] what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure” (Daniel 2.43-44).

“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15.20-28).

In many countries today, Christians are rightly worried about the number of faithful but diminishing and aging churches, and worried about the thriving of doctrinal and moral corruption throughout so many churches—the darnel tares among the wheat (Matthew 13.24-30). And in many countries today, Christians also face violent persecution, rape, massacre and starvation, imprisonment for “re-education,” and the abduction of their children. But we know Christ’s church shall never suffer total extinction or genocide. There shall always be those who remain faithful to Christ and Bible Christianity, and they shall continue until the end of the world (v.30). Even though in this world we shall have tribulation—we should have peace and be of good cheer, because our Lord has already overcome the world (John 16.33).

Moreover, According to Christ’s own prophetic long view, which he has given to us in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 1.1, 19), he has redeemed his people to God, by his blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation—and his everlasting gospel will be preached to all nations—and of this great saved worldwide multitude (whose number is uncountable by us but all are individually known by him), all shall be gathered in to worship God and the Lamb before his throne in heaven (Revelation 5.9; 7.9-17; 14.6; ch.21).

Our Prophet, Priest and King has given us his assurance: “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6.39-40).

  1. In this title, the Christ (a translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, meaning Anointed One), the Lord Jesus possesses and fulfils all the offices that a man was anointed to in the Old Testament: Priest (Exodus 29.6; Leviticus 6.20,22; 8.12; Numbers 3.3), King (1 Samuel 2.10; 2 Samuel 2.4; 5.3; 22.50-51; 1 Kings 1.45; 3.9), and Prophet (1 Kings 19.16; see also Deuteronomy 18.15). The Lord Jesus Christ is the New Testament Prophet (Luke 13.33; John 1.4-5,16; 6.14; 12.49-50; 14.9-10; Acts 3.22; Hebrews 1.1-3), Priest (Hebrews 3.1; 4.14-15; 5.1-10; 8.1) and King (Luke 1.31-33; Colossians 1.16-18; Philippians 2.9-11). ↩︎

  2. See also Matthew 1.1,20; 2.2; 9.27; 11.23; 20.30-31; Mark 11.7-10; Luke 1.26-33; 2.11. ↩︎

  3. This simple answer, “Thou sayest,” was a legal idiom for a complete verification. Jesus was saying, “Yes, I confirm that your proposition is correct, exactly and unequivocally as you said it in your question.” See also Matthew 27.11; Mark 15.2; Luke 23.3. ↩︎

  4. The New Testament Greek word translated as “verily” is ἀμήν (amen), a word that Greek-Speaking Jews had brought with them from the Hebrew. The word means truly, surely, certainly (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, number 281). ↩︎

  5. This word means authority. The New Testament Greek word is ἐξουσία, (exousia) (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, number 1849). ↩︎

  6. The New Testament Greek word translated “conversation” here is πολίτευμα (politeuma), meaning administration, constitution, or form of government of a city, state or commonwealth (Strong’s Concordance, word number 4175). ↩︎