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Thursday, April 06, 2017

The Kingdom of Heaven

'Yes, Virginia, there IS a 'Heaven'!

The traditional concept of 'Heaven' ( not 'Cloud Nine' & harps ) IS a Scriptural one, sort of, but over the years, there has been much disagreement over its nature. Questions like 'How?', 'When?' & 'Where?' have been the underlying cause of some division in the Body of Christ. It has been fairly well accepted that the way you get there ( 'How?' is by following the Law/Spirit of God, but the question of when we will go there ( wherever 'there' is ) is where we get into the most trouble!

First, to clarify what I mean by 'Heaven' & the fact that 'it IS a Scriptural ( concept)'; there ARE almost countless Scriptures, mainly in the Psalms, that speak of 'Heaven' as the dwelling ( place ) of the Creator God, or 'Yahweh' to the Israelites. 'Heaven', as a study of both the Greek & Hebrew terms will show, simply means 'sky'; it is only by extension ( interpretation? ) that it was taken to mean 'the abode of God'. Because of a classical misunderstanding of the scriptural phrase 'heaven & earth', we in the West have conjured up these fanciful notions of anything from sitting on clouds strumming harps, to our own private mansion in the afterlife. The Scriptural phrase in question refers, as we have explored before, to a peculiar ( covenant ) people, Israel by name, who symbolically, at first, embodied, through the Tabernacle, then through the Temple, the Dwelling of the Creator God with ( in ) His Creation.

Scripturally speaking, then, we should note, with the fulfillment of prophecy, heaven has been brought to earth, since, as Scripture says, 'the tabernacle of God [ is ] with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them [ and be ] their God' ( Revelation 21:3 ( Ephesians 2:22, et al ). Understanding that it is by Covenant alone that this is realized, it should be clear from the outset that, in context, the prophecies ( promises ) of Scripture were, first & foremost, to & for Israel. What is not so clear, however, is who exactly Israel is comprised of, or in other words, who 'Israel' symbolizes. Previously in this blog, I have surmised that 'Israel' was representative, or even symbolic of, all of humanity. In this case, then, when Scripture ( Revelation 21:3, et al ) speaks of the dwelling ( place ) of God being with men, although it refers primarily to New Covenant Israel, it should be understood as referring ( by extension ) to the inclusion of all humanity!

Does all humanity realize this glorious fact? The obvious answer is 'no', but does that change the fact? Again, the obvious answer is 'no'! We might wonder, then, whether because of our religious training ( indoctrination? ) or what, how 'the tabernacle of God [ is ] with men', if this includes all of humanity?! Can one BE a dwelling ( place ) of the Creator God if one is a sinner, who in other words, has not agreed with the Covenant revealed in Scripture? I'm sure we've all heard, as Christians especially, that 'God does not dwell with sin' ( either that, or 'He cannot.......'-of course, here we might run into problems, too ), so, of course, that would mean that only those who have 'turned their life over to Jesus' can be a receptacle for the Holy Spirit, right?

Jesus Himself said, 'the kingdom of God is within you'! Admittedly, He DID say this to the representative leaders of Israel, so that would make sense, but since, as we've seen, Israel itself was representative of humanity, it stands to reason that Jesus was saying that the Kingdom of Heaven is not, in its very nature, a physical, material 'place'; rather, it is a Kingdom of the Heart, of the innermost being. In this context, then, are we not ALL, every human being on planet earth, by nature, spiritual beings? Now, it's true that there are many out there who have been able, through whatever means & to whatever extent, to squelch their spiritual nature, but that does not change the fact that they are, by their very nature, first & foremost, spiritual creatures. I mean, it's not like one's disagreement with or ignorance of would negate their very nature or even the Presence of the Kingdom, right?!

The apostle Paul wrote, 'the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit' ( Romans 14:17 ): this WOULD seem to be exclusive, right?! Well, at first glance, maybe, but how many are there out there who do experience peace & joy, who practice righteousness even though they don't claim to be Christians & have no ties with the Organized, or Institutional Church? Maybe they don't show what most Christians would deem due reverence or fear for the Great & Holy Spirit! Can there be true righteousness, peace & joy apart from Christ? Have we alone, as Christians, attained that which the rest of the word has sought after ( in vain? ) for thousand of years, maybe even tens or hundreds of thousands? Is that not the height of arrogance & pride?!

The spiritual nature of every human being is an established fact! That many have all but forgotten this glorious fact is really quite beside the point; 'it is what it is'. Humanity's lack of realization does not change their nature, nor does it preclude them from the Kingdom of Heaven. Now, if they consciously disagree with its principles, those named above, by the apostle, even to the point of fighting against them, they most certainly will not enjoy the Blessings of the Kingdom, but their true nature & the Nature of the Kingdom are immutable!

You may have heard the phrase, 'Heaven is in our hearts', This is very arguably what Jesus meant when He told the Pharisees, 'the kingdom of God is within you'. As 'Heaven' is a spiritual 'place', or dimension, if you will, can we truly say that it only rests within the hearts, or innermost being, of those who have accepted the Messiah of Israel as their own? I think not; the Kingdom of Heaven rests within the hearts ( read 'spirits' ) of every man, woman  & child, if they would but realize it. Sadly, not all do & so it does not manifest in their lives!

The questions of 'How?', 'When?' & 'Where?' have been answered. 'Heaven' is not something we look forward to in the afterlife! It's not even something we seek to attain. It is within us all; we just need to realize it, to choose to manifest it. It is something inside of us, something that is a part of us, of our very being. Every man, woman & child has the capacity to do rightly, to enjoy peace & rest; it's a matter of choice!

Charles Haddon Shank

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