The king sprung awake, drenched with sweat. His bed linens were a
tangled mess and his breathing heavy, as if he had just finished a
hundred yard dash. What had his dream meant? There had been a
great statue of various substances. But the beautiful statue had
been crushed and ground into powder by an ever growing rock cut
out without hands. He tossed and turned, anxious about the
dream’s meaning. Whether it was the middle of the night, early
the next morning or after a few nights of restless sleep, we
don’t know, but Nebuchadnezzar called for his wise men to tell
him the dream and its interpretation. None could do so until a
young Jewish boy requested a brief amount of time. Daniel gathered
with his three friends. They requested God have compassion on them
and give the dream and its meaning. Daniel returned to
Nebuchadnezzar and explained the dream. The statue’s head of
gold represented Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom of Babylon.
However, Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom would not last forever. A
second inferior kingdom would rise. Then a third. Finally, a
fourth kingdom as strong as iron and yet brittle as clay would
come forth. However, in the midst of this fourth kingdom, the God
of heaven would set up a kingdom. It would not be left for another
people, but would overrun the world (Daniel
2). From the time of Daniel, the Jews looked for this
kingdom. They were ever watchful for the Kingdom of Heaven and its
king, the Son of Man (cf. Daniel
For over 500 years, the Jews watched. Nebuchadnezzar died.
The Jews remained in captivity. Cyrus of the Medo-Persians
conquered Babylon and the Jews were allowed to return home, but
this was not the promised kingdom. They eventually rebuilt the
temple and Jerusalem, but they were still a subject nation. The
Medo-Persians were defeated by the Greeks. When Alexander died,
the Jews were just passed back and forth between the divided
Grecian kingdoms. Then the Maccabees came. They brought fire into
the Jews. They rallied and defeated the Greeks, winning their
religious and political independence. But this was not the
promised kingdom. A fourth empire arose. Rome dominated Israel. In
the days of Caesar Augustus, a child was born in that little
backwater, subservient country of the Jews. The angels proclaimed
good tidings to nearby shepherds. Wise men from the east traveled
to honor Him. Prophecies surrounded His early life. Could this be
About 30 years later, his cousin began to preach in the
wilderness saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at
3:2). He baptized Jesus, the Nazarene. Then Jesus began to
teach the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew
4:17, 23). His teaching was coupled with miracles His
enemies could not deny. Could this be the king? What kind of
kingdom would He establish? Jesus’ audiences were well
acquainted with kingdoms. But they were well acquainted with the
wrong kind of kingdoms. They did not understand what the promised
kingdom would be like. Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom, summarized
in the Sermon on the Mount, explains what this kingdom is and how
we can be part of it. What a shock it was for those Jews to
finally hear what that kingdom, the ever growing rock cut out
without hands, is really like.
The kingdom of heaven.
The Sermon begins, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for
theirs is the kingdom of
5:3). A few verses later, Jesus continued, “Blessed are
those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for
theirs is the kingdom of
5:10). Those who obey the commands will be great in the
kingdom of heaven (Matthew
5:19) and those whose righteousness surpasses that of the
scribes and Pharisees will enter the kingdom of
5:20). We must not get so caught up in learning about the
kingdom of heaven from the Sermon that we miss the point of
primary importance. This kingdom is of heaven, not earth.
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream proclaimed this difference
contrasting the kings of men as a carved statue with the kingdom
of God as stone cut out without hands. In John
18:36, Jesus said His kingdom is not of this world unlike
the kingdoms surrounding us. In Luke
17:21, Jesus explained the kingdom is within us (NKJV).
It is not about land and territory, but about hearts.
From the very outset we should know the kingdom will be
different. It will not seek to conquer nations, but liberate them.
It will not seek to wage war but bring peace. It will not seek to
dominate, but show mercy. What an amazing kingdom it is.
The kingdom of the poor in spirit.
demonstrates the two ways the Jews knew to enter a kingdom. Paul
had been born a Roman and the commander had bought his way in.
Jesus’ opening statement shoots both of these in the foot. He
said the poor in spirit.
This kingdom is about spiritual qualifications, not physical. Your
birth doesn’t matter; your spirit does. This is an early
indication the kingdom is not just for Jews. Jesus didn’t say,
“Blessed are the Jews born into the kingdom.” In fact, in John
3:3, 5, we see it is not about our birth, but our rebirth
whether we are Jews or Gentiles.
Further, Jesus said the poor
in spirit. This kingdom is not reserved for the wealthy. In fact,
the wealthy have a particularly hard time entering the kingdom
according to Matthew
19:23-26. No doubt, all things are possible with God.
Wealthy people can be part of the kingdom (cf. I
Timothy 6:17-19), but very few are because wealth
distracts us from serving God (Matthew
What a surprise. The kingdom does not go to the worthies.
It goes to those who recognize their unworthiness. It goes to
those who know they have nothing to offer God forcing Him to let
them in. They cannot buy their way in, work their way in, talk
their way in. God will never owe them anything and they know it.
Therefore, they are reduced to crouching in His presence,
prostrating themselves to beg for mercy. They are not just poor,
they are impoverished. They have nothing and they know it. They
mourn and gently submit to God, hungering and thirsting for His
righteousness. He provides them righteousness, an inheritance,
comfort and the kingdom of heaven. This kingdom does not belong to
the haves, but the have-nots.
The kingdom of the harassed.
This is the oddest of world dominating kingdoms. It has
spread throughout the entire world. It has outlasted all other
kingdoms. Yet, it has been harassed the entire way. Matthew
5:10-12 says the kingdom belongs to those who are
persecuted. The word translated “persecuted” means to put to
flight. How amazing must a kingdom be for its citizens to be
repeatedly put to flight and yet it continues to grow.
Interestingly, in Acts
8:1-4, we learn it was the very act of being put to flight
that caused the kingdom to grow, spreading the gospel of the
kingdom outside the bounds of Jerusalem and its surrounding
As shocking as this, we need to understand entering God’s
kingdom does not mean being held out of physical harm’s way. II
Timothy 3:12 says all who desire to live godly in Christ
Jesus will suffer persecution. In Acts
14:22, Paul told the newly established churches,
“Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
Entering God’s kingdom means protection from Satan on a
spiritual level, but not on a physical one. We still live in the
world and we still suffer Satan’s attacks. We must not assume
these attacks mean God is not with us. On the contrary, they very
much mean we are on God’s side. They very much mean we are in
the kingdom. They can help us look to the reward because the
reward of the persecuted is great. It is reserved for us by the
power of God through faith (I
The kingdom of the righteous.
says, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes
and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The
Pharisees were extremely righteous. If you don’t believe me, ask
18:11-12: “God, I thank You that I am not like other
people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax
collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.”
They were righteous. They could be seen being generous to the poor
6:2), praying long prayers (Matthew
6:5) and fasting (Matthew
6:16). How could anyone beat that?
However, notice Matthew
21:31. Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees, “Truly I
say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into
the kingdom of God before you.” Tax collectors and prostitutes
were more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees? How did that
happen? It happened when tax collectors and prostitutes realized
their brokenness and turned to God hungering and thirsting for
righteousness. When they did that, God gave them the righteousness
that came by faith in Jesus (Philippians
3:9-11). The Pharisees had as much righteousness as they
could possibly get by relying on their own ability to keep the
law. However, the righteousness that comes from realizing we
can’t keep the law and turning to Jesus is much greater.
That righteousness sets us free from our own wheel-spinning
attempts to obey God (cf Romans
7:14-25) and God’s grace allows us to actually pursue
the good deeds He created beforehand for us to walk in (Ephesians
2:10; Titus 2:14). If the Pharisees ever broke down in a
moment of honesty, they would have had to admit they just
couldn’t cut it. But they had nowhere else to turn because they
were relying on themselves that they were righteous (Luke
18:9). However, even tax collectors and prostitutes can
continue in Christ’s righteousness when they start that path
because they know God is at work with them (Philippians
The kingdom of the obedient.
Jesus apparently recognized how many might twist His
teaching about grace and righteousness. We see it around us today
as many so discuss poverty of spirit, grace and the righteousness
that comes by faith in Jesus that they act as if all we have to do
is claim Jesus is our Lord and we are suddenly a part of the
kingdom. It doesn’t work that way.
7:21-23, Jesus spoke of very religious people who called
Jesus Lord. They were so religious they even argued with Him when
He said they hadn’t obeyed Him. He pointed out it is not enough
to call Jesus, “Lord;” we actually have to do what He says. As
Jesus said in Luke
6:46, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not
do what I say?”
We must never lose sight of the balance. Our righteousness
comes by faith in Jesus through God’s grace. But we must not
forget we are to pursue righteousness and obedience ourselves. No
doubt this is a growth process (II
Peter 1:5-8), but nevertheless we must grow. We must
increase faith, knowledge and virtue. We will not be part of the
kingdom of heaven if we view God’s grace as a license for
The kingdom of the militant.
When Jesus taught us to pray, He said we should pray,
“Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in
6:10). Too often, we argue about this verse and the
establishment of Christ’s kingdom. It is established and we no
longer pray for that. However, that is not the limit of this
verse. We are praying for God’s dominion to spread throughout
the entire earth as it is spread throughout heaven.
But, the kingdom of heaven is not violently militant. We
are a kingdom of peacemakers (Matthew
5:9). We do not spread the kingdom with the sword. We do
not spread the kingdom through political mechanisms. We spread the
kingdom by spreading the peace of God. We have a ministry of
Corinthians 5:18-19). In II
Corinthians 10:3-5, Paul explained our warfare. It is one
of teaching and the mind, bringing thoughts into captivity, not
We militantly spread the kingdom throughout the world, but
we do so through peace and reconciliation. We do it with
intensity, purpose and courage. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven
is like a mustard seed that started small and spread to fill the
whole earth (Matthew
13:31-32) and like a little bit of leaven that eventually
spreads through the entire measure of flour (Matthew
The kingdom of the minority.
Though the kingdom militantly spreads through the entire
world, it will never be more than the minority. According to Matthew
7:13-14, the path to the kingdom is difficult and few ever
We are not seeking success through popularity. We are not
seeking success through having the biggest numbers. We are not
seeking success through world domination. We know we will always
be in the minority. Our way will always be the path of most
resistance. We know few will want to be part of us. But we keep on
as the vocal minority that continues to spread the good news of
peace even though men harass us continually.
There is a story that gives us pause to examine ourselves.
13:24-30, Jesus told the story of the kingdom and
explained it in Matthew
13:36-43. The good seed has been planted, but Satan has
infiltrated. He has sown tares among the wheat. We must take care
to make our calling and election sure (II
Peter 1:10-11), we must make sure we are the wheat that
will shine forth brightly as the sun in righteousness. We must
make sure to live this Sermon. It is our foundation. It is the
Gospel of the Kingdom. It is the guide for kingdom citizens. Let
us never fool ourselves. We do not enter the kingdom of heaven by
“going to church.” We enter the kingdom of heaven by walking
the narrow path Jesus outlined. We can do it. If we ask, seek and
knock, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, God will provide
the way delivering us from evil and transferring us into the
Kingdom of Heaven.
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ