Heaven or the Kingdom?

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Heaven or the Kingdom?

It is very important to understand that the core message of Yeshua and His Shliachim was not the message of the modern Christian Church. The core message of Yeshua and His Shliachim was, “Repent (turn away from unrighteousness), for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” At no place in the four Gospel accounts is it ever recorded that “Yeshua went up on a hill, and He sat down, and began to teach His disciples, ‘believe in Me for the forgiveness of your sins, so that you can have a personal relationship with Me and go to heaven when you die.’” After a brief historical review of the history of Yeshua and the Shliachim, the Apostolic Writings form a “handbook” of what the lifestyle (halacha) of the Kingdom should be.

The Christian Church has abandoned that core message and replaced it with a message that is not based on Scripture: “How can I be saved and go to heaven?” There is not a single place in all of Scripture that teaches that anyone goes to heaven when they die, not even the righteous or “the saved.” Though it may very well be true, it is not clearly taught in the Scriptures. [Check for yourself here.]

What the Scriptures do teach about heaven is that:

  • Heaven is the abode of God (e.g., Matthew 5:45, 6:1; 6:9) and of His angels (e.g., Matthew 18:10; 22:30; 24:35).

  • Heaven is God’s throne (e.g., Matthew 5:34; 23:22).

  • The names of the elect are written in heaven from before the foundation of the earth (Revelation 13:8; 17:8).

  • Yeshua came from heaven to live on earth as a man (e.g., John 3:13; 6:38,41,51), and after His resurrection He returned to heaven (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51).

  • Our spiritual treasures and reward are recorded and stored up in heaven (Matthew 19:21; Luke 18:22).

  • After their death and resurrection the two Witnesses of the Tribulation are taken up into heaven in the cloud while their enemies watch (Revelation 11:12).

What is heaven, anyway? In Hebrew thought there are three “heavens.” The “First Heaven” is earth’s atmosphere, where the birds fly. The “Second Heaven” is the visible universe — all the planets, stars, and galaxies. The “Third Heaven” is the abode of God and His angels, somewhere beyond, or outside of, the visible universe.

“Alright,” someone argues, “what about when Jesus turned to the thief on the cross next to Him and said, ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise’? Didn’t Jesus promise the repentant thief that he was going to go to heaven when he died?”

No, He didn’t; not really. Again we have a problem translating from Hebrew idiom into literal English. Remember, Yeshua spoke Hebrew or Aramaic (probably Hebrew), not Koine Greek. What He said was, “Today you will be with me in Gan Eden.” The Hebrew term Gan Eden is usually translated with the English word “Paradise.” Translated literally, Gan Eden is “Garden of Eden.” Did Yeshua mean that the thief was literally going to be in the Garden of Eden when he died. I don’t really think so, but I certainly don’t know for sure. Rav Sha’ul assures us that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8), but after a half century of study, I’m sure I don’t know where that is.

Instead of “How can I be saved and go to heaven?” perhaps the question should be rephrased as “How may I gain eternal life in the Kingdom?”

The clear answer as to who gains eternal life is, “The righteous will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). Who are the righteous? The righteous are those who “walk blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of ADONAI” (obedience to God’s Torah, Luke 1:6).

How are the righteous to conduct their lives?

  • Obey God’s commandments and requirements (the Torah): “… walk blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of ADONAI” (Luke 1:6). It is not walking in obedience that makes us righteous; rather, we walk in obedience because we have been made righteous (we’ll come back to that idea).

  • Confess our sins to God: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

  • Practice righteousness: “If you know that He [God] is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:29). “The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He [God] is righteous” (1 John 3:7). “… the one who is righteous, still practice[s] righteousness” (Revelation 22:11).

  • Live by faith: “The righteous shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4, quoted in Romans 1:17). Again please note that living by faith does not make us righteous. Rather, if we are already righteous, then we will live by our faith.

How, then, does an unrighteous person become righteous?

By believing God: “Avraham believed ADONAI; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6, quoted in Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23) Although the editors of most English translations add the word “in” to the phrase to make it more readable, the word “in” is not in the original Hebrew text.

It is not sufficient to merely believe in the existence of a “supreme intelligence” or “higher power.” Nor is it sufficient to believe in the existence of a beneficent deity, or even to believe in the existence of the God of the Bible. In order to be “reckoned as righteous” we must believe what God says. “And without trusting, it is impossible to be well pleasing to God, because whoever approaches Him must trust that He does exist and that He becomes a Rewarder to those who seek Him out” (Hebrews 11:6).

Yeshua said: “… believe in God, believe also in Me” (John 14:1). “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me” (John 14:11). “… understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father" (John 10:38) “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) “… if you do not trust that I AM [hwhy, invoking the name of God that is too sacred to pronounce, declaring Himself to in fact be hwhy], you will die in your sins" (John 8:24)

And how do the righteous inherit eternal life? Yeshua is recorded as having given brief instruction on that subject.

“A man approached Yeshua and said, ‘Rabbi, what good thing should I do in order to have eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘Why are you asking me about good? There is One who is good! But if you want to obtain eternal life, observe the mitzvot’ [the commandments of Torah]. The man asked Him, ‘Which ones?’ and Yeshua said, ‘Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t give false testimony. honor father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 19:16-19; Mark 10:17-19; Luke 18:18-20)

And on another occasion an expert in Torah stood up to try and trap Him by asking, “Rabbi, what should I do to obtain eternal life?” But Yeshua said to him, “What is written in the Torah? How do you read it?” He answered, “You are to love ADONAI your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your understanding; and your neighbor as yourself.” “That's the right answer,” Yeshua said. “Do this, and you will have life” (Luke 10:25-28).

Another time Yeshua taught, “Everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times more, and he will obtain eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).

Another time He taught, “Yes, indeed! I tell you that whoever hears what I am saying and trusts the One who sent me has eternal life — that is, he will not come up for judgment but has already crossed over from death to life!” (John 5:24-29).

But only those who have been drawn by God the Father can come to Yeshua in faith.

No one can come to me unless the Father, the One who sent me, draws him. And I will raise him up on the Last Day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘They will all be taught by ADONAI.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God, he has seen the Father. Yes, indeed! I tell you, whoever trusts has eternal life” (John 6:44-47).

And as He prayed on the night He was betrayed: “Glorify Your Son, so that the Son may glorify You, just as You gave Him authority over all mankind, so that He might give eternal life to all those whom You have given Him” (John 17:2).

In Acts 13:48 it is recorded that: “… the Gentiles … honored the message about the Lord, and as many as had been appointed to eternal life came to trust.”

Yeshua also taught that those who trust in Him may have eternal life: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only and unique Son, so that everyone who trusts in Him may have eternal life, instead of being utterly destroyed. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but rather so that through Him, the world might be saved. Those who trust in Him are not judged; those who do not trust have been judged already, in that they have not trusted in the One who is God's only and unique Son” (John 3:16-18).

What does it mean to trust in the Messiah? “So Yeshua said to the Judeans who had trusted Him, ‘If you obey what I say, then you are really my talmidim’” (John 8:31). “If you love Me, you will keep My commands” (John 14:15). “If you keep my commands, you will stay in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and stay in his love” (John 15:10).

The idea prevalent in the Church is that Yeshua did away with the responsibility of being obedient to Torah, that He actually did away with the requirements of Torah. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

“Don't think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete” (Matthew 5:17).

“Yes indeed! I tell you that until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud [the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet] or a stroke [the decorative marks on Hebrew letters] will pass from the Torah — not until everything that must happen has happened” (Matthew 5:18).

“So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot [commandments of Torah] and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness is far greater than that of the Torah-teachers and P'rushim, you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” (Matthew 5:19-20).

“If you love me, you will keep my commands” (John 14:15).

We keep God’s commandments (Torah) and the commandments of Yeshua not to gain eternal life, but because by believing God and believing His Son Yeshua, we already have eternal life. Not long before his death, Rav Sha’ul wrote to Timotheus: “But this is precisely why I received mercy — so that in me, as the number one sinner, Yeshua the Messiah might demonstrate how very patient He is, as an example to those who would later come to trust in Him and thereby have eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)

Again, it is very important to stress that we do not “earn” eternal life by being obedient to Torah; we don't "inherit" eternal life because we are righteous. Rather, God has declared us righteous because we believe Him, believe everything He says (including when He says we are unrighteous sinners), and therefore we inherit eternal life through His Son. And because we are righteous and have been given the gift of eternal life, we walk righteously in obedience to His Torah!

The core message of Yeshua and the Shliachim was, “Repent, for the Kingdom is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15; 6:12; Luke 13:3,5; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; 17:30; 26:20; Revelation 2:22; 3:3; 3:19).

The message of the Apostolic Writings is, “Since I have been forgiven my sin and granted eternal life, how am I to live my life?”

While Yeshua and the Shliachim did teach some about eternal life, the bulk of their message was how to live righteously in the Kingdom. There is some confusion about whether the “Kingdom of God” is different from the “Kingdom of Heaven,” since both phrases appear in the Apostolic Writings.

Circumlocutions are words and phrases that “speak around” a word or idea that may be sensitive. For example, we often speak of one “passing away” because we want to avoid saying “died,” or we say “sexual assault” when we really mean “rape.” Or referring to routine bodily functions we say “go to the bathroom.”

The most obvious circumlocution in the Tanakh is the avoidance of speaking the Holy Name hwhy. Instead of pronouncing the Name, other terms are used such as HaShem (“the Name”), ADONAI (in Hebrew), or Lord (in English).

The word “heaven” is frequently used in the Scriptures and in extra-Biblical literature to refer to God; thus “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” are the same thing. So when the Apostolic writers refer to the “Kingdom of Heaven” they are not talking about some ethereal please that dead people go to, but rather they are talking about living here on earth under the rulership of the Almighty, the Kingdom of God.

The discussion of where we go when we die is a very interesting one, but far beyond the scope of the present volume. Suffice it for now to say that to be “absent from the body [is] to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8) and “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (1 John 3:2)

Page last updated on Wednesday, 03 August 2016 11:18 AM
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Major content changes after May 3, 2015 are identified as "Revisions”)