The kingdom of heaven is…difficult to see

kids-arguingWhen the kingdom of heaven is yeast mixed in dough, or the smallest seed already planted, that it’s hard to see is intuitive.  When it’s a landowner or a king, though…well, positions of power trade, in part, on being always seen and known.  With its emphasis on light, you’d think the latter – being center stage – would be more fitting for the kingdom of God.  I mean, if I wanted to be known and hailed as the creator of all things…honestly, I don’t think I would have come to a poor, young couple with no social or political connections as a baby.  Especially not before Facebook.  Yet this God is the creator of all things seen and unseen and the kingdom of God is where this God lives, where this God’s will is done and where this God’s reign is supreme.  If God created both seen and unseen, then there’s clearly a purpose for each.

Jesus even says that the kingdom of heaven cannot be seen:  “Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:20).  Jesus says this right after cleansing ten lepers: yet the kingdom of heaven is not about signs and wonders (though God’s mission surely includes healing); it’s about relationship.  To be ‘among’ requires a set of more than one; where two or more are gathered, there is relationship, complete with dysfunction, blemish, difficulty as much as true desire for grace, truth and love.  The point I think Jesus is making here is that the kingdom of God is hard to see when you look for external signs instead of within interpersonal relationships, which means that the kingdom of heaven is, among other things, participatory.

Perhaps another reason the kingdom of heaven is hard to see, though, is because you have to be “born again” to see it.  That phrase is fraught with overuse and misuse; Jesus uses it in conversation with a sincere but confused Nicodemus who is baffled by how one who is old could physically be born a second time.  “Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (John 3:1-3).  Here again, Jesus combats this notion of looking to the outside world for signs, to the sky or sea for signs for only those born of water and Spirit will enter the kingdom (John 3:5), and these people born of the Spirit are like the wind: you hear its sound but you don’t know where it goes or comes from (John 3:8).  Also, you cannot see the wind, either.

Yet another reason one cannot see the kingdom of heaven by looking outside at the world for signs is that the kingdom of heaven is not of this world.  Paul says something similar to what Jesus says in John 3 when he writes: “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.  What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:49-52).  The word for ‘flesh’ here, sarx in the Greek, is commonly used to denote the human or ‘earthly’ nature, the ‘animal’ nature of humans that’s prone to sin.  The word for ‘blood’, haima in the Greek, can either mean literal blood or blood shed by violence.  I don’t know about you, but if there’s one thing that seems pretty consistent to me throughout the history of the world, it’s humanity’s proclivities toward sin and violence.  The kingdom of heaven is decidedly not that, so much not that that that cannot even inherit the kingdom of heaven. 

Jesus says as much in Matthew 18:36: “Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (emphasis mine).  But, speaking of trumpets, though the kingdom of heaven is still clearly not of this world and cannot be seen by looking at outward signs, it seems we are promised that it one day will be.  “Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).  As ‘forever’ as it seems like Christ is tarrying, He will reign for even more in the kingdom of heaven that will be all in all.

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