THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
Before Joshua ben Joseph began his public ministry, his cousin John began preaching that the Deliverer would soon arrive on the scene. John was a fiery preacher who claimed he was the voice of one crying in the wilderness. He came preaching a message of repentance, warning the hypocrite and sinner alike to prepare themselves and make straight the paths.
John must have made a strange sight dressed in animal skins, his hair uncut and hanging down like some priestly caveman. He was a member of the Nazarite sect, spoken of in the Book of Numbers, whose members did not cut their hair and refrained from alcohol and the touching of the dead. Two of his illustrious brothers in the sect, Samson and Samuel, made strong examples in the history books of the scribes.
John announced that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand, that it was near, at the gate. Now was the time to repent and get ready because the Messiah was coming.
John and his disciples practiced baptism, the immersing of the body in water to signify the washing away of sin. It was the later believers who made baptism the public ceremony of receiving salvation and entrance to the Kingdom and soon after it signified membership into the church.
Interestingly enough, John used the Jordan River to baptize which followed the Hebrew law to use living water, (mayim chaiyim) that is flowing water instead of a bath (mikveh). When Joshua spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well he commented that the water she was drinking would only satisfy her thirst temporarily while the living water that he offered would quench her thirst eternally.
The Kingdom of Heaven
He went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the Kingdom and healing all manner of diseases.
God is not really a king in the way we think of a monarch who passes on his power to his next in line. Joshua made use of a concept which people could relate to in order to help us better understand what the spiritual world is like.
An earthly king would be a father-figure to his people – hopefully a just and benevolent king – not a tyrant. In this same way, Joshua attempted to portray God as a Father and we his sons in an enlarged, growing family of believers.
While he did not offer a precise definition of the Kingdom, he used many parables to compare what this Kingdom is like:
- Joshua put another parable before them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden
- plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.
- the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hid in a field; which when a man has found it, he hides, and for joy thereof goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.
- the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls
- the kingdom of heaven is like a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind
The Kingdom of Heaven has three main components which are Sovereignty, Sonship, and the Supreme desire to do the Father’s will.
- Sovereignty – God is King and sovereign Lord over all. He reigns not only over the material physical worlds of the universe he created but also over the spiritual world which transcends the material plane of time and space.
- Sonship – membership in the Kingdom of Heaven means the recognition that you are a Son of God, made by Him, your Father who lives in Heaven. God really is your Father, it is not just a metaphor that Joshua is referring to – our biological parents are co-creators with God, they participate in the creation of children, though in reality we are children of creation. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
- Supreme desire to do the will of the Father. To be a member of a religious organization or church is not necessarily to be a child of God. To be a true faith-son of God one must have the will of God as their highest desire. When the will of God is an obligation or duty, when it is your law or rule, then you are not really a true son. When the will of God becomes your will, then you are a true faith-son of the Living God.
The Prince of Peace based his gospel, his religion, on a fact: that God is our Father and we really are his sons. Everyone is a son of God: to love our neighbor as ourselves was not a new concept to the Jews. What was new was that Joshua expanded the idea of a neighbor to include all nations, races, tribes, sexes and religions. The Jews only believed that their neighbor was another Jew. The gentiles were not their neighbors nor were they members of the elite chosen people.
The Hebrews had a racial God. The goyim which is variously translated nations, people, gentiles or heathen also figuratively means a herd of animals or swarm of locusts which shows their low opinion of other peoples.
The fact that Israel was ruled by the heathen Romans was a blow to their national pride which the Deliverer was supposed to relieve. The radical message that there is neither Jew nor Gentile in the Kingdom of Heaven was a slap in the face to many of the intensely nationalistic Israelites.
The Invisible Church
Of all the many things which Joshua said, one of the most profound statements he made was that the kingdom of heaven is within you. This kingdom was not made of wood and stone or bricks and mortar – it was a completely spiritual entity without walls or doorways. This new kingdom existed solely in the hearts and minds and souls of the believers. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.
When Joshua said, seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness, he was not encouraging us to look for a building or an earthly kingdom – he was encouraging us to seek the will of God. It seems what Joshua was saying was that the kingdom of heaven is the will of God and those who are members of it are those who want to do God’s will.
The brotherhood of believers is then, the sons of God who desire to do his will, that is, those who are seeking the kingdom of heaven. These believers may or may not include the members of an organized church. We are joined by the spirit and by the unity of our shared spiritual goals and not necessarily by our church attendance.
The Son of Man and the Son of God
He called himself the Son of Man. The title he chose referring to himself only appears once in the Old Testament in the Book of Daniel.
Behold, there came with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man, and he came even to the Ancient of Days, and they brought him near before him. There was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
He referred to himself exclusively as the Son of Man – 82 times to be exact in the 4 gospels. The Jews did not expect the Messiah to be divine. They expected him to be human, a prophet with wonder-working power who would set them free from Roman rule. The Deliverer would come in power which to the 1st Century wonder-seeking Jews meant thunderbolts and lightning – they wanted a miraculous display of God’s power and a militant overthrow of the Roman yoke.
He did not therefore reveal himself to the apostles as the Son of God until they saw for themselves that he was divine. He asked them, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter speaking on behalf of all the apostles replied, You are the Son of the Living God. Six days later, he led Peter, James and John up Mt. Hermon and they saw him transformed before their eyes, his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.
It is forever true that God reveals himself to us based on our capacity and receptivity to receive the revelation – that he never gives us more than we can bear is true concerning trials and tribulation as well as concerning truth. He gives us what we can handle. The Son of Man was revealed to the apostles as the Son of God at a time when they were ready to receive the revelation.
After the transfiguration, the Son of God more openly proclaimed or revealed his divinity, not only to his friends but also to his enemies: I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am.
Joshua ben Joseph based his religion of the Kingdom on his dual nature of humanity and divinity, on the fact of his Sonship to Man and his Sonship to God. The message which he proclaimed was the new living way for a mortal man to live the godly life here on earth. He revealed that the spiritual life was the most important pursuit here on earth when he said seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness.
He did not say that the material things of this world were not important, only that the next life was more important and the highest ideal for us to attain. He did not live as a guru or ascetic teacher who hid himself away in a monastery or mountain retreat. He did not live as a penniless pauper begging alms, though he did chose to forsake everything in order to teach and pursue his ministry. He also expected his closest followers to do the same. The apostles really did give up everything to follow him.
Joshua ben Joseph was truly the Master of men; he understood them completely and commanded obedience and respect wherever he went. Whoever met him fell in love with him; crowds followed him everywhere hanging on his every word. And when they heard these words, they marveled and went their way.
He returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit,
and news of him spread throughout the whole region.
He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.
He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up,
and went according to his custom
into the synagogue on the Sabbath day.
He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them,“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
The glad tidings or good news that the Prince of Peace proclaimed was that God was a loving, caring Father and we, his sons can enter into a relationship with him. God the Father was not only the God of Abraham and Isaac – he was the God of all peoples of all nations on earth.
He proclaimed that we all could become liberated faith-sons of the creator of the entire universe. He came to tell those who were in bondage to fear, sin and superstition that they could be free – that this relationship between God and Man could break the chains which hold men and women down.
The Greek word for bring the good news is euaggelizo where we get our word evangelize. It is also interesting to note that the Hebrew word for poor used in the book of Isaiah is anav which literally means downcast or depressed. Often this word is translated humble or meek or lowly.
People are depressed because of their circumstances: they are sick or afraid or confused; they are caught up in the addictive deception of sin and can’t get free; and they are shackled in their minds by the enslaving power of religious tradition. Financial struggles plague the hearts of men and women – debt is widespread and poverty is rampant throughout the third-world. Social injustice and inequality result in the oppression of the weak by the strong and the leaders of the nations are often dictatorial and indifferent to the needs of the common people.
The Son of Man showed that the power of God will manifest itself in the believer’s life like a fountain of living water which wells up inside of us and gives us spiritual energy and power to combat and overcome the obstacles and difficulties in our lives. He revealed God as an approachable Father who was there to counsel and guide us in our day to day struggles.
Joshua revealed himself as our spiritual brother willing to aid us and help us in overcoming our struggles in life: in this world you will have many troubles but take heart for I have overcome the world.
Salvation alone often sets people completely free from many of life’s problems. Such is the power of the Spirit…not by might nor by power but by my spirit. Salvation makes for immediate improvement in the family, the hearts of the fathers are turned to their children. Many new believers have testified to being freed from addictions on the day of their acceptance of God as their Father in Heaven.
My yoke is easy and my burden is light. The gospel which this carpenter proclaimed was not difficult to follow – anyone can understand it, even a child. He did not create a long list of do’s and don’ts, nor a complicated philosophy which required years of study. He showed the world a way of living life which was first of all simple, secondly spiritual and thirdly it was based on reality: God is our Father and we are his sons.