The kingdom of heaven

Jesus’ description of the kingdom of heaven suggests that it is not so much a place as it is a condition that is developed over a period of time. In some ways, you might say that the kingdom of heaven is an internal state that is connected to external factors such as housing, nutrition, and financial security. Jesus used a parable to explain how the kingdom of heaven works. He said:

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:3-9)

The example Jesus used to explain the kingdom of heaven had to do with a common experience that most people who lived in the first century could relate to, but they still didn’t understand what he was saying. “Jesus spoke in parables to explain spiritual truths, but those who had already rejected Jesus did not have divinely enlightened minds with which to perceive these truths, and no amount of explanation would make them understand (1 Corinthians 2:14)” (note on Matthew 13:10-17).

When Jesus’ disciples asked him why he spoke to the people in parables, he told them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11). The Greek word that is translated secrets, musterion (moos-tay’-ree-on) in the New Testement denotes, “not the mysterious (as with the English word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illuminated by His Spirit” (G3466).

Jesus said, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand…But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:13, 16-17). One of the people in the Old Testament of the Bible that was able to see the kingdom of heaven, but still did not understand how it worked was Jacob, the son of Isaac that inherited Abraham’s blessing. When Jacob left his father’s home in Beersheba and traveled toward Haran where his uncle Laban lived, he spent the night in place that he later described as “the house of God” (Genesis 28:17).

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:11-15).

The King James version of this passage indicates that Jacob “lighted upon a certain place” (Genesis 28:11). The Hebrew words paga (paw-gah’) and maqowm (maw-kome’) suggest that Jacob was being placed (H6293/H4725) in the house of God because it was God’s will for him to be there rather than any intentional effort on his part to arrive at that location. Like the sower in Jesus’ parable, God sowed Jacob like a seed and he landed on a rocky spot where he had to use a stone as a pillow to fall sleep.

Jesus explained the parable of the sower to his disciples in simple terms so that they could grasp the spiritual truth he wanted to convey. He said:

“Hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what he has sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this in the one who hears, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:18-22).

When Jacob realized the LORD was in the place where he was staying, he exclaimed, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). Jacob was excited about his discovery, but he was unwilling to make a commitment to the LORD. Like the seed that landed on rocky ground, God’s promise didn’t take root in Jacob’s heart because Jacob didn’t believe in God. After Laban tricked him into marrying his daughter Leah and forced Jacob to stay in Haran another seven years in order for Rachel to be his wife, Jacob’s expectation of returning to his father’s house seemed to disappear altogether.

After living with his uncle Laban for 20 years, Jacob received a second message from the LORD. “Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you'” (Genesis 31:3). Jacob left Paddan-aram and “set his face toward the country of Gilead” (Genesis 31:21) where his father Isaac was, but Jacob was detoured from his destination. On his way from Paddan-aram, Jacob camped before the city of Shechem and “he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he pitched his tent” (Genesis 33:19). It’s unknown how much time Jacob spent in Shechem, but while he was there, his daughter Dinah was raped and his sons destroyed the city out of revenge. This seems to reflect the situation Jesus described as seed that was sown among thorns because Jacob started out obeying the LORD’s instruction by leaving his uncle’s home and heading toward Gilead, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choked the word, meaning Jacob was happy living in Shechem until the tragedy of rape closed off his spiritual airway and he allowed the city to be ransacked by his angry sons.

God spoke to Jacob a third time as he dealt with the aftermath of his daughter’s rape. “God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau'” (Genesis 35:1). The Hebrew word that is translated arise, quwm (koom) is used “to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). The Hebrew word maqowm (maw-kome) which is translated “a certain place” in Genesis 28:11 is derived from quwm and speaks of not only of a locality, but also figuratively “of a condition (of body or mind)” (H4725). God’s command to go up to Bethel was not related to its geographical location because Bethel was located about 25 miles south of Shechem. What God was likely doing when he instructed Jacob to “Arise, go up to Bethel” (Genesis 31:1) was calling Jacob, inviting him to become a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus said in his parable of the weeds:

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn'” (Matthew 13:24-30).

The Greek word that is translated weeds, zizanion (dziz-an’-ee-on) “is a kind of darnel growing in the grain fields, as tall as wheat and barley, and resembling wheat in appearance, except the seeds are black. It was credited among the Jews with being degenerate wheat. The seeds are poisonous to man and herbivorous animals, producing sleepiness, nausea, convulsions and even death (they are harmless to poultry). The plants can be separated out, but the custom, as in the parable, is to leave the cleaning out till near the time of harvest” (G2215).

Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the weeds indicated there is only one kingdom that exists in the world and Satan’s followers are usually found intermingled in it with believers. Jesus said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil” (Matthew 13:38-39). One of the reasons why it is sometimes difficult to tell if a person is saved or not is because Satan’s sons cleverly disguise themselves as Christians. They want everyone to think they are good people and don’t intend to do anyone any harm. In the parable of the weeds, the man who sowed the good seed told his servants not to gather the weeds because “in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them” (Matthew 13:29). This could mean that the lives of believers and unbelievers are so closely intertwined that separating them presents a risk of believers becoming calloused toward God.

Jacob’s love for his wife Rachel was a driving force in his decision to stay with his uncle Laban. At first, Jacob only committed himself to serving Laban for seven years in order to marry Rachel, but after he was tricked into marrying Leah instead, Jacob agreed to serve Laban seven more years. At the end of that time, Jacob was persuaded to stay another six years in exchange for flocks of animals to feed his family. When Jacob finally decided it was time for him to leave Paddan-aram, Rachel stole her father’s household gods, hid them in her camel’s saddle, and lied to Laban about it while he searched for them in her tent. The household gods were idols that most likely symbolized the family’s devotion to pagan deities such as Astoreth and Ishtar. After God commanded Jacob to “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there” (Genesis 35:1), it says in Genesis 35:2-3, “So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”

Jacob’s awareness that his family was practicing idolatry was a compromise that had most likely affected his spiritual leadership. His commitment to the LORD at Bethel may have been Jacob’s way of changing the course of his family’s history and a distinct point in time when God began to work out Jacob’s destiny through the lives of his children. Genesis 35:16-19 states, “Then they journeyed from Bethel. When they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor. And when her labor was the hardest, the midwife said to her, ‘Do not fear, for you have another son.’ And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is Bethlehem).”

Jesus told his disciples, “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” (Matthew 13:31-32). What happened to Jacob when he went to live with his uncle Laban seems to illustrate this spiritual truth. Jacob’s uncle admitted that he had learned by divination that the LORD had blessed him because of Jacob. The Hebrew word that is translated divination, nachash (naw-khash’) means a magic spell, but can also refer to learning by experience or diligently observing something. Like the branches of the tree in Jesus’ parable that spread wide and tall and were inviting to the birds that were looking for places to build their nests, God’s blessing on Jacob’s life was a benefit to everyone around him and some people took advantage of that. Jesus went on to say, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour till it was all leavened” (Matthew 13:33). This seems to suggest that faith can be contagious and that it is easier for the people around a believer to have faith in God once they see it at work in the believer’s life.

It’s not known exactly how old Jacob was when he returned to his father’s home, but it can be estimated that he was about 100-105 years of age. Jacob was approximately 90 years old when his son Joseph was born. Jacob lived in Paddam-aram another six years after that (Genesis 30:25 31:41), then he went to Shechem and lived there until Joseph was probably around 12 or 13 years old. Genesis 35:27-29 encapsulates the entire period of time from when Jacob returned to Hebron to when Isaac died at the age of 180, which would have made Jacob 120 years old (Genesis 25:26). These verses state, “And Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kiriath-arba (that is Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned. Now the days of Isaac were 180 years. And Isaac breathed his last, and he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.”

After Jacob returned to Hebron, it appears that he and Esau lived peacefully with each other the rest of their lives. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians talked about the reconciliation of the two people groups that are represented by the twin brothers Jacob and Esau. He said, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and had broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:13-16).

Paul described the peace of God as something that “surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). This may have been what Jesus was talking about when he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). Jesus went on to say, “Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46). The only way a person can have the peace of God is by having a relationship with Jesus Christ. In his final discourse, after eating the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus concluded by stating, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write to me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

How much?

Jesus paid tribute to John the Baptist and said of him, “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28). Jesus’ acknowledgment of John was meant to be understood in the context of all the Israelites that lived under the Old Covenant, or more specifically, the promises God made that were fulfilled prior to his birth. Jesus’ association of John with those that are “born of women” suggested that he was comparing John with unbelievers. Jesus followed up his comment about John with this statement, “but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). Perhaps, the best way to interpret Jesus’ commendation of John the Baptist would be to see it as a way of explaining John’s doubts about who Jesus was. It says in Luke 7:19, “And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” John didn’t know for certain that Jesus was the Messiah because he wasn’t born again.

Jesus went on to explain that forgiveness was a byproduct of faith, not the other way around. He used an example of forgiveness to explain that faith was the determining factor of genuine belief and that love for Jesus was the measure of how much someone had been forgiven. The only way that someone could know for certain that Jesus was who he said he was; Israel’s Messiah, the Son of God, was to demonstrate faith. Speaking to a Pharisee named Simon that had invited him to have dinner at his house, Jesus said:

There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one ought five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. Mine head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. (Luke 7:41-47)

According to Jesus’ story of the creditor with two debtors, both the Pharisee and the woman’s sins were forgiven. The difference between these two sinners was that the Pharisee only had his sins forgiven, whereas the woman was justified in the eyes of God. Jesus’ statement to the woman, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:50) indicated that she had obtained much more than just the forgiveness of her sins. The Greek word Jesus used that is translated peace, eirene (i-ray´-nay) indicated she had a harmonized relationship with God. In other words, she was fully restored to prosperity and was a blessed child of God.

Marriage alliance

Jehoshaphat, the son of Asa the king of Judah, reigned during the last 12 – 13 years of Ahab’s life. Sometime during that period, probably around the time when Ahab repented of taking Naboth’s vineyard away from him, “Jehoshaphat made peace with the king of Israel” (1 Kings 22:44). Jehoshaphat’s motive for making peace could have been Ahab’s defeat of Ben-hadad. Jehoshaphat may have interpreted the deliverance of the Syrian army as a sign that Ahab was in God’s favor.

The peace agreement between Jehoshaphat and Ahab was in the form of a marriage alliance between their two children. Ahab’s daughter Athaliah was given to Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram as a wife in order to unite the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Because of this agreement, when Ahab asked Jehoshaphat to go with him to battle against Syria (1 Kings 22:4), Jehoshaphat couldn’t say no without jeopardizing their relationship.

Jehoshaphat attempted to influence Ahab into walking with the LORD (1 Kings 22:7), but Ahab’s heart was bent toward doing evil. Even after the prophet Micaiah told Ahab he would be killed in battle (1 Kings 22:17), Ahab attacked the king of Syria anyway. Ahab thought he could outwit his enemy by disguising himself. It says in 1 Kings 22:30 that Ahab “said unto Jehoshaphat, I will disguise myself, and enter into the battle; but put thou on thy robes.” In other words, Ahab wanted Jehoshaphat to act as a decoy and risk his life to prevent Ahab from being killed.

It is likely Jehoshaphat agreed because he believed he would be killed anyway. Micaiah’s prophecy indicated Israel’s army would be left leaderless, “he said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd” (1 Kings 22:17). When the captains of Ben-hadad army saw Jehoshaphat, they thought he was the king of Israel. “And they turned aside to fight against him: and Jehoshaphat cried out. And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots perceived that is was not the king of Israel, that they turned back from pursuing him” (1 Kings 22:32-33).

The word translated cried in 1 Kings 22:32, za‘aq is most frequently used for crying out for divine aid (2199). Jehoshaphat cried out to God for help and the captains of the chariots perceived that he was not the king of Israel, the man they were looking for, and left him alone. In the moment when Jehoshaphat cried out to the LORD, God could have ignored his plea for help. Jehoshaphat had no business going to battle with Syria after Micaiah prophesied they would be defeated, but God did help him, because Jehoshaphat was honoring his peace agreement with Ahab.