Being in the kingdom today

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All the tax-collectors and sinners were coming close to listen to Jesus. The Pharisees and the legal experts were grumbling. ‘This fellow welcomes sinners!’ they said. ‘He even eats with them!’

So Jesus told them this parable. ‘Supposing one of you has a hundred sheep,’ he said, ‘and you lose one of them. What will you do? Why, you’ll leave the ninety-nine out in the countryside, and you’ll go off looking for the lost one until you find it! And when you find it, you’ll be so happy—you’ll put it on your shoulders and come home, and you’ll call your friends and neighbours in. “Come and have a party!” you’ll say. “Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!”  

‘Well, let me tell you: that’s how glad they will be in heaven over one sinner who repents—more than over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need repentance.

Luke 9:1-7 KNT

So many people – I myself thought this when I was younger – assume that when Jesus talks about inheriting the kingdom of heaven, he means going to heaven when you die. So people have said, ‘There you are, in Matthew, Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven, the place will go when we die. And at the end of the Gospel, he dies so that we can go there’.

That is completely wrong. Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew’s Gospel in Chapter 6, ‘Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as in heaven’. The phrase kingdom of heaven is not about a place called heaven, which is somewhere else, where God is king and where we’ll go one day. It is about the establishment of the rule of heaven, in other words, the rule of God here on earth.

Does that just make Jesus a revolutionary? Well, in a sense, yes it does. Many people have said, ‘Maybe Jesus was just the typical revolutionary trying to bring the kingdom of God on earth’. Well, yes, he was, but he was double revolutionary because though that was his agenda, an agenda which he shared at that level with many other Jews of his day, the means by which he believed this revolution would happen was radically different and it involved, yes, his own death in a way which no other Jewish revolutionaries had even dreamed of before.

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N.T. Wright
N.T. Wright is a prolific author for both academic and popular readers. He is author of Simply Jesus, Surprised by Hope, The Day the Revolution Began, Jesus and the Victory of God, and Paul and the Faithfulness of God. He is also the author of the For Everyone Series of New Testament Commentaries. He currently serves as Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Previously Wright served as Bishop of Durham, Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey, and Dean of Lichfield Cathedral. For twenty years he served as Professor of New Testament Studies at Cambridge, McGill, and Oxford Universities. He writes often for newspapers in England, including the Times, the Independent, and the Guardian. He has been interviewed numerous times by radio and television broadcasters on both sides of the Atlantic, including ABC, NBC, CNN, PBS, FOX, and NPR.