"Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" Matthew 4:17
This week I started a sermon series on the greatest sermon ever preached, The Sermon on the Mount. As I introduced the sermon I referenced Matthew 4:17 to indicate the content of Jesus' message. His was the proclamation of an entire kingdom, and not any earthly kingdom, but the kingdom of Heaven itself! For everyone who has longed for a word directly from the Spiritual realm, open your mind and read Matthew chapters 5-7.
But first, before you dive into the message of Heaven, you have to make sure you have a proper understanding of Jesus' statement, "the Kingdom of Heaven." The phrase is unique to Matthew's gospel. The rest of the New Testament writers are content to use the phrase "kingdom of God," but not Matthew. He wants to wake up his Jewish readers. Matthew's purpose in writing his gospel was to prove that Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Law and Prophets. Therefore his use of the phrase, "kingdom of heaven" is significant. To a people expecting a political Messiah to establish an earthly reign, Jesus fell short of their lofty expectations. They failed to understand the Kingdom.
Heaven? What do you think of when you hear the word. Pearly gates? Crystal seas? Golden streets and harp music? That's not what the Jews thought. Their understanding of heaven was much simpler. They actually had three "heavens" that they could refer to at any time. The first heaven was the atmosphere of our planet. Literally the air we breathe. The second heaven is what we like to term, "outer space." This heaven is the home of the planets, moon, sun and stars. The third heaven was the spiritual home of God. The throneroom in Isaiah 6 describes this third heaven as understood by the first century Jews.
Now for the mind-blowing part. Jesus doesn't merely say "the kingdom of heaven." No, a literal translation of Matthew's gospel would read "the kingdom of the heavens." What does Jesus mean by "heavens"? What He means is that His kingdom is not confined to any one realm, but all three. The Kingdom is as near to us as the air we breathe, yet expansive enough to envelop the entirety of the universe. His Kingdom exists in this physical world, but is entirely spiritual in nature. In other words, it is in the world, but not of it, just as its citizens are.
But not only that, this Kingsom is "at hand." When I paint, I like to keep a rag at hand in order to clean anyspills or smudges that may occur. When my wife cooks, she likes to keep a pot-holder at hand in order to move a hot pan when the time calls for it. "At hand" means readily accessible. Jesus, in one phrase, is proclaiming that His kingdom is both nearby and readily accessible. The citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom can enjoy the benefits of citizenship now! We too often feel that eteranl life is a future asset. While in some ways it is, it's benefits of joy, power and peace are accessible now! We can start living like we are living forever now. We can enjoy God's presence now. We can be amazed at forgiveness now. That's what makes Jesus' proclamation so life-changing and breathtaking. He is here now, just as he has always been.