The Mystery Of The Kingdom
To many the Kingdom of Heaven is a mystery. Brave knights in shining armour have fought and died for what they thought it was, common peasants and pilgrims have journeyed thousands of miles in search for it, and Popes and kings have fought for it amidst the great pageantry and intrigue of the Medieval Age, and so for 200 years much of Europe and the Middle East was subjected to terrible wars, and endless cruelty and violence. Was THIS the 'Kingdom of Heaven' that so many had dreamed of?
The Crusades were in the most part a series of Holy Wars launched by the Roman Catholic states of Europe against the Saracens. (The term 'Saracen' was the word used to describe a Moslem during the time of the Crusades.) The Crusades started in 1095 when Pope Claremont preached the First Crusade at the Council of Claremont. The Pope's preaching led to thousands immediately affixing an emblem of the cross to their garments and undertaking the great military expeditions for the purpose of rescuing the holy places of Palestine from the hands of the Mohammedans (Muslims). Those who went on crusade were promised that it was God's will to wage war against and kill the enemies of the Catholic faith, and that they would be rewarded by God for their deeds.
In the history of the Crusades the fate of the city of Jerusalem played a particularly prominent role as it was seen as a place of Holy significance to the Christian religion. There were eight Crusades against the Muslims in number, the first four being sometimes called the Principal Crusades, and the remaining four the Minor Crusades. The Catholic Church also lead crusades against others, such as the pagan Slavs and Balts, Jews, Russian and Greek Orthodox Christians, Mongols, Cathars, Hussites, Waldensians, Old Prussians, and political enemies of the various popes.
To the Roman Catholic Church, the 'Kingdom of Heaven' was seen as an earthly kingdom, a kingdom of territory, cities, and peoples. For this reason the Roman Catholic Church saw it as her duty to protect this earthly kingdom from invaders, expand its power and influence, and purge out enemies and 'heretics' from within. Rome therefore championed this 'Kingdom of Heaven' by the use of force of arms and the terrible persecution of any who did not submit to her religion. All this they did in the name of Jesus Christ.
However, in the Holy Bible, Jesus Christ himself said these remarkable words: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matthew 7:21-23)
Here Jesus plainly states that not everyone that does great and mighty things in His name will enter in to the real Kingdom of Heaven. Why? Because the condition Jesus gives is those that do, "the will of my Father which is in heaven". The point is, that not everything that is done in the name of Christianity and Jesus Christ is actually Christian, only those things that are done that match what Jesus taught.
So what did Jesus teach us about the REAL Kingdom of Heaven?
The Kingdom To Come
Jesus taught His followers to pray: "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). Christians pray that God's Kingdom will one day come to this earth so that God's will is done perfectly on earth "as it is in Heaven". In Heaven there is no war, pain, disease, suffering and death, but on earth today these things are abundant. So part of the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven is that it is yet to come.
The Kingdom Within
The mystery deepens when Jesus answered the question of the Pharisees (a group of very strict Jews) as to when the kingdom of God should come: "He answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20-21). Christians understand that God's Kingdom is also spiritual. That is, it is not made up of countries with borders, or cities with walls, but rather of individual people from every nation, tongue, and race. For this reason the REAL Kingdom of God can never be destroyed, it has no capital city to be conquered, no borders to protect, or armies to suffer defeat. Therefore, for this same reason God's Kingdom cannot be expanded by force of arms, or by political might. The true war that Christians wage is for the hearts, minds, and souls of individuals.
Although the Bible allows for reasonable self defence, Jesus warned about furthering His cause by force of arms. When Peter (one of Jesus' disciples) used a sword, Jesus said to Him: "Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Matthew 26:52). Jesus' will for His followers to spread the spiritual Kingdom of God on earth is by force of WORDS not by force of arms. "And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people." (Matthew 9:35) Jesus commanded His disciples to do as He did: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20). In fact, the physical Kingdom of God will not come to this earth until: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matthew 24:14).
In regards to those who seek to harm Christians and even kill them, Jesus called His followers to: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). In the book of Luke chapter 9 we read about a village of the Samaritans that had rejected Jesus (much to the anger of two of His disciples): "And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." True Christians today are to echo Jesus unique teaching regarding our enemies - to save men's lives not to destroy them.
So the next time you hear someone say that this or that act of violence was done in the name of Christianity, or when a political leader stands up and says that 'God is on our side' as they promote a war of conquest - you'll know better.
Seek First The Kingdom
"Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? ...But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:31,33).
Let me ask you; are you seeking first the Kingdom of God? If not, you ought to be. Jesus taught that it is more important than ANYTHING you can have in this present life.
An Impossible Standard
Jesus said: "For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20). For you, trying to enter the REAL Kingdom of Heaven presents a daunting task. To gain entrance to God's perfect Heaven requires absolute moral perfection on your part in thought, word, and deed. The Scribes and Pharisees were really the Jewish religious elite of Jesus' day, and Jesus said that to enter Heaven you would need to "exceed" or be even more morally strict than they were! "And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:24-26)
It is impossible for you to enter God's Kingdom because in God's sight you are a lawbreaker, or what the Bible calls a 'sinner'. A sinner is one who wilfully breaks God's Moral Law and falls short of God's perfect standard - The Ten Commandments. To illustrate, listen to the voice of your conscience as we look at just four of them:
1. Have you ever told a lie? The average person has told hundreds, if not thousands of lies in their lifetime, and such is the offense to God of a lying tongue, that the Bible says that: "All liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone [Hell]" (Revelation 21:8).
2. Have you ever stolen anything? (regardless of the value) Stealing from your workplace, downloading illegal music, and wasting time at work all count as theft. If you have ever been burgled, you will remember the anger you felt when someone had the audacity to break in and steal things from you that did not belong to them and that they had not worked for. Well, if we as sinners get angry at thieves, then how do you think a Holy and perfect God feels when He has seen you steal from others? The Bible says, "Thieves... shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:10,9).
3. Have you ever blasphemed the Name of God? Blasphemy is to take God's holy Name or the Name of Jesus Christ and use it as a curse word, or as an expression of disgust. We hear God's Name used to curse all of the time, and to God it is extremely offensive and insulting to Him. The Bible says that, "Thine enemies take thy name in vain" (Psalm 139:20). Taking the Name of God in vain has made you an enemy of God.
4. Have you ever committed adultery? Most think they are clean on that one, but listen to what Jesus had to say about this Commandment: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28). How many times have you looked with lust in your lifetime?
The first step to entering the Kingdom of God requires you to admit that you are guilty of breaking God's law, and deserving of His righteous punishment - eternal damnation in a place the Bible calls Hell. The Bible describes Hell as a place of everlasting torment, fire, darkness, and separation from God. It is really God's everlasting prison for all those who die in their sins. If there is any hint that you are trying to justify your actions and make excuses for your sin then you are not yet fit for the Kingdom of God. If however you do realise that your sins has caused great offense to God, and that God would be fair and just to send you to Hell today if you died in your sin, then you are not far from the Kingdom of God.
To Enter The Kingdom
"At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:1-4).
Jesus said that you must humble yourself, "as a little child" before God, and admit your guilt before Him. In God's great love for sinners, Jesus Christ (God in the flesh) took upon Himself the sin of the world when He died on the cross. Then on the third day He rose from the dead defeating death. To enter God's Kingdom today - to be truly "converted", and to be saved from the terrible consequences of your sin, simply and humbly "as a little child" repent of (or 'turn away' from) your sin and put all of your faith alone in the risen Saviour - the Lord Jesus Christ. Trust Him alone for your salvation and the Kingdom of Heaven is yours!
"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." (Romans 10:9-10).
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:16-17).