A Synopsis of Paper 170: The Kingdom of Heaven
The term, "kingdom of heaven" was one that had many meanings in Jesus' era. Jewish people thought the kingdom would mark the coming of the Messiah who was to establish Jewish power on earth. Persians believed that a divine kingdom would be established miraculously at the end of the world.
Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven centered in the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. He taught the apostles to pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done." He earnestly sought, without success, to have them exchange the phrase "the kingdom of God" for "the will of God." The apostles' distorted ideas were compounded after his death by their belief that Jesus would return within their lifetimes to establish the new kingdom in power and glory.
The kingdom of God in this world is the supreme desire to do the will of God and an unselfish love of others. Humans enter the kingdom by faith, sincerity, trust in the Father, open-mindedness, truth-hunger, and the desire to find God and be like Him. Acceptance of God's forgiveness creates a path that ensures the continuing progress of children of God toward righteousness.
True righteousness is the natural result of unselfish love for others. Although righteousness is more than merely doing good works, the true religion of the kingdom unfailingly manifests itself in social service. Jesus did not concern himself with morals and ethics as such, rather, he was concerned with an inward spiritual fellowship with God that outwardly manifests as loving service. Religion is personal, but the results of religion are familial and social.
Jesus observed five phases of the kingdom of God: personal experience of spiritual relationship with God, enhanced social ethics resulting from the influence of God's spirit in the heart, supermortal brotherhood of spiritual beings in heaven and on earth, hope of a more perfect fulfillment of God's will in the next age of humanity, and the spiritual age of light and life on earth.
Features of the kingdom of heaven are: pre-eminence of the individual; will as determining factor in man's experience; spiritual fellowship with God the Father; supreme satisfaction of loving service; and the transcendence of the spiritual over the material in human personality.
The world has yet to seriously implement Jesus' ideals of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus' teachings nearly failed because of his followers' distortion of his concepts. Jewish believers persisted in regarding him as the Messiah who would return to establish a kingdom on earth. Gentile Christians accepted the doctrines of Paul, who described Jesus as the redeemer of the church.
The church as a social outgrowth of the kingdom is desirable, but not if it becomes an institutional substitute for the kingdom of heaven. Jews thought of the kingdom as the Jewish community; gentiles thought of it as the church. Jesus taught that it was all people who confess their faith in the Fatherhood of God, and declare their wholehearted dedication to doing his will. The Christian church is the cocoon in which Jesus' concept of the kingdom now slumbers. Someday, a new John the Baptist will revive the actual teachings of the Master, and the religion of Jesus will replace the religion about Jesus.