You probably noticed Jesus often referred to the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God while he was here. What did that mean to his audience? What background made this significant? Why would we care?
SCRIPTURES SET THE STAGE
If you ever felt intensely that “have not” pain–meaning you ached so much over not having what you really want–you might envision some of the impact of this scripture on the first-century, oppressed Jews:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
THAT ANCIENT WORLD AND THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS
Scholars of ancient Rome may think Roman beliefs in gods influenced Jewish beliefs that their Messiah could be both the Son of God and God the Son. But the Dead Sea Scrolls provide evidence that Jews stuck with the Old Testament, then wrote their Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. They didn’t have resolved yet what was inspired and what wasn’t. But they had no respect for Roman beliefs unless they were Hellenists. And there were plenty of Hellenists around them. Jesus, however, didn’t spend much (if any) time reaching out to them (that we know of).
THE RULE OF THE CONGREGATION SCROLL
One of the Dead Sea Scrolls was called “The Rule of the Congregation Scroll.” It
envisions a day when the Messiah will sit with Israel’s elders at the banquet table. This is what the scroll says: “This is the procedure for the meeting of the men of repute when they are called to the banquet held by the Council of the Community, when God has begotten the Messiah among them (1QSa 2:11-12)….” A major theme in 1QSa is that the Essenes longed for the great eschatological banquet that was foretold by Isaiah the prophet…. Isaiah 25:6, 8-9…lies behind Jesus’ parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24)…told in response to the man who cried out, “The one who will eat bread in the kingdom of God is blessed!”
A SMALL, RECTANGULAR-SHAPED PIECE OF LEATHER
What the angel told Mary (when announcing Christ’s birth) sheds light on key phrases very close to the majority of Jewish hearts in the first-century: “He will be great…called the Son of the Most High,” “He will reign forever and His kingdom will have no end,” and he “will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:30-35).
One of the surprising Qumran texts…was a small rectangular-shaped piece of leather, comprising two columns of Aramaic text. This is all we have…but…is very important. The document (4Q246) is sometimes called the Son of God Apocalypse. Here it is, with elements that parallel themes in [Luke 1:30-35]: “After much killing and slaughter, a prince of nations will arise…he will be ruler over the land…will be subject to him…. Also, his son will be called Great…. He will be called the Son of God, they will call him the son of the Most High…. while…nation tramples nation, until the people of God arise; then all will have rest from warfare. Their kingdom will be an eternal kingdom, and all their paths will be righteous. They will judge the land justly, and all nations will make peace…. God will be their help, He Himself will fight for them…”
THE KINGDOM OF GOD VERSUS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
Matthew uses the term “kingdom of heaven” 34 times but “kingdom of God” only 4 times…. Matthew had a reason… He was a Jew writing to his own race and respected their custom of using the name of God as little as possible…. On the other hand, to speak of the kingdom of heaven to the Gentiles…would have been to suggest concepts which for them implied polytheism, while to speak of the kingdom of God would have stressed monotheism. This apparently is the reason the other 3 Gospel writers do not speak of the kingdom of heaven.
TWO ASPECTS OF THE KINGDOM
There are 2 aspects of the kingdom, present and future…. The present invisible phase is set forth …in the call to repentance… (Matthew 3:2; 4:17, 23; 10:7; Luke 4:43) …in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7); and in the…kingdom particularly of the hidden start, growth, and development… (Matthew 13:19, 24, 31, 33, 44-45, 47, 52; Mark 4:30). …the epistles reveal that the rule of God on earth today is effective only among those who have been delivered from darkness… (Colossians 1:13)…. The future visible…kingdom, when Messiah will reign over the earth from Jerusalem, is foretold in many passages in the OT (Psalm 2; 72; 89:19-29; 110; Isaiah 11:1-16; 65:17-66:24; Jeremiah 32:36-44; 33:4-18; Joel 3:17-21; Zecheriah 14:9-17).
WHY WOULD WE CARE?
Look up the OT verses linked immediately above for the future visible kingdom when the Messiah will reign over the earth. If you’ll read these, you’ll care.