What the Bible says about
Citizenship in Heaven
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Jesus' frequently uses the words "Kingdom of Heaven," especially in Matthew 13, as in "The Kingdom of Heaven is like..." We should be careful not to be fooled by this. It does not mean "the Kingdom of God when Jesus Christ returns." That is not what Jesus means.
The Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven is not just a future matter, but also a present reality. It is not on earth right now as a government, in the form of a nation or a kingdom, but the Kingdom of God exists. Colossians 1:13 says that we have already been translated into the Kingdom of the Son of His love. The word translated is better rendered as "transferred." This is not the Protestant idea of "the Kingdom of God is within you," but the Kingdom of God does exist. Notice Matthew 12:28: "But if I cast out demons by the spirit of God, surely the Kingdom of God has come upon you." It was present then in the person of Jesus Christ and working.
Mark 12:34 contains another example: "So when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, 'You are not far from the Kingdom of God.' And after that no one dared question Him." In Luke 10, Jesus uses the term in a present-tense situation. The Kingdom of Heaven is something that happens now or can happen now. Jesus is speaking to His disciples, telling them what they are to do when they go out preaching the gospel: "And heal the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The Kingdom of God has come near to you'" (Luke 10:9). This is similar to what He says to the scribe in Luke 17:21: "Nor will they say, 'See here!' Or 'See there!' For indeed the Kingdom of God is among[as it is better translated] you."
These examples show that Jesus taught His disciples that the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven exists now, but it is in a different form from what it will be when Jesus returns and sets up His government. When we yield to God, and when we are accepted by Him as His sons and daughters, as it were, we become citizens of the Kingdom of God. In a sense, then, we all are in the Kingdom of God now.
Nevertheless, we are aiming for that future reality when Jesus Christ comes back and sets His throne upon this earth—when all people will stream to Jerusalem to become part of God's Kingdom. The entire Bible looks forward to this time, but there is a present reality of the Kingdom among His sons and daughters. Paul concurs: "Our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20); "We are ambassadors for Christ" (II Corinthians 5:20; our allegiance is to Christ, the King of the Kingdom of God); we are "strangers and pilgrims" in a foreign land (I Peter 2:11). Our land is the Kingdom of God. The country we live in is an alien nation. In true members of God's church, the Kingdom of God is already ruling in them. This is what Jesus means when He speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Some scholars want to throw out the word kingdom when it is used this way, feeling that it is a misleading translation. Of course, many of them are Protestants, who look at it from the understanding of "the Kingdom of God is within you." Nonetheless, they believe that the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 13 should be rendered the realm, dominion, or reign of God. He is already our King, reigning over us right now.
Another rendering is a word we should all be familiar with—the sovereignty of God. Have we come under the sovereignty of God? Yes, indeed. We did it voluntarily when we accepted Christ as our Savior. So in this sense, we are in the Kingdom of God, and its rules apply to us.
This is what Jesus means in Matthew 13. He is not doing away with the idea that He will return to this earth and set up His government here after putting down all other government's rule, but He is saying, "Those of you whom I have called out are in the Kingdom of Heaven right now—in a spiritual sense—and you have to live by its rules and fight its enemies. So beware! This is what your life in My Kingdom now will be like."
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 1): The Mustard Seed
Speaking of taxes in Matthew 22:21, Jesus taught His disciples to “render . . . to Caesar the things that are Caesar's,” enjoining His disciples to pay them. This teaching parallels the general principle that Christians are to be subject to the governments of this world (Romans 13:1) yet to obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). In doing so, we are to be good citizens appreciating the privileges and opportunities extended to us. We are to submit to the nation's laws and regulations as long as they do not conflict with the commands of God. If they do, we must be willing to submit to their penalties.
Above all, Christians must follow Christ's teaching and example. Jesus neither attempted to reform human government nor use political means to forge a better world. Rather, He preached the doctrine of a radically different world to come, calling His followers out of this present evil world and to allegiance to His coming Kingdom.
Jesus told Pilate that His Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36)—that is, of this age or present time. This is Satan's world, and Christ came, not to reform Satan or improve his handiwork, but to save His followers from Satan and his system. A Christian is a citizen of the Kingdom of God (Ephesians 2:19), and since that Kingdom is not yet set up on earth, our citizenship is now reserved in heaven (I Peter 1:4).
This fact means that Christians are to be separate from the world and its social, political, economic, and religious affiliations (II Corinthians 6:14, 17). We live by God's laws and give Him our sole allegiance, since we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).
Martin G. Collins
Would Jesus Christ Vote? (Part Three)
In this verse, Jesus introduces a second facet of the Kingdom of God, teaching that a person can enter into it, as well as that one must be "born again" to bring about the entrance. The question arises, "How long must one wait before entering it?"
Jesus preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15), as did Paul (Acts 28:30-31). The Bible states plainly that the Kingdom is an entity that one can enter into even before Jesus' return. Note Matthew 5:20, "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." Jesus adds in Matthew 7:21, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord.' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.'" Moreover, Jesus declares in Matthew 18:3, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." Clearly, a person can enter into God's Kingdom, but there are also requirements. Can one meet the requirements now?
In Mark 1:15, Jesus dogmatically states, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand." "The time is fulfilled" implies that nothing can be added to it, that time will be extended no longer. That the Kingdom is "at hand" means that it is near or close. It does not suggest distance in either space or time. By using these phrases together, Jesus indicates that it can be entered into at once when God's basic requirements are met. The most basic requirement is taught in John 3—to be born again. Jesus thus announces when the Kingdom could be entered—immediately.
Luke 17:20-21 finds Jesus speaking to a group of Pharisees:
Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you."
It is evident that the Pharisees' conception of the Kingdom of God differs from that of Jesus. They believed in a spectacular, visible establishment of the Kingdom, even as we look forward to its fulfillment in the near future. However, in Luke 10:9, 11 and again in Luke 11:20, Jesus plainly says that it was already present, whether in the persons of the apostles or Himself, as exhibited in their acts. Acts can include miracles, conduct, and their messages. His statement in Luke 17:20-21 explains that they should not expect a visible manifestation of the Kingdom as they perceived it at that time.
Theologians may argue over the interpretation of words, but Jesus' own testimony undoubtedly implies that the Kingdom of God was in their presence in His Person and ministry. Therefore, the last phrase of Luke 17:21 should be translated as, "The kingdom of God is among you." Barnes' Notes, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, Expositor's Bible Commentary, The New International Biblical Commentary, and The Interpreter's Bible all agree on this conclusion. He was in their midst, and He was within the Kingdom of God.
When this is combined with John 18:36 (where Jesus declares that His Kingdom "is not from here") and many other scriptures pointing to the establishment of God's Kingdom with power at Christ's return, we can understand that it is both a present and a future reality. In addition, it has both heavenly and earthly aspects. On one hand, it is present and near in the people to whom God has given His Spirit and has chosen to represent Him. On the other, it is distant in terms of time and as a geographical and governing reality. As a present reality, it is small, goes virtually unnoticed, and rules over little. Yet, in the future, at Christ's return, it will dominate and rule the earth. It is certainly not established in its fullness on earth now. Nonetheless, Scripture also proves that it is a present, earthy reality having earth-bound, flesh-and-blood citizens who are, in the Bible's terms, "spiritually minded" or "in the Spirit."
We are all familiar with Matthew 13, in which almost every parable begins, "The kingdom of heaven is like" (verses 24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47, 52). Jesus then illustrates a matter that directly involves instruction for the church and its membership. In doing this, He is using the term "kingdom of heaven" in place of "the church"—He is virtually equating them. Why? Because church members are citizens of the Kingdom of God.
Notice especially verse 41. How can angels gather tares, not just from any old place, but from out of Jesus' Kingdom on earth, if it does not yet exist on earth? Christians are not only presently God's children in the Kingdom, but tares fellowship with them in the church! Again, in Mark 12:28-34, Jesus converses with a scribe whom He had complimented after seeing the man respond wisely, saying, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." He means that the scribe is not far from being converted and entering the Family of God.
When Jesus and the apostles preached the gospel, they were inviting people to become part of that Kingdom immediately without having to wait for the resurrection at Christ's return. The Kingdom of God is a spiritual entity. Its headquarters is in heaven, but at the same time its agents—initially Jesus of Nazareth then later the apostles and the church—were, as children of God, laboring on earth to make it better known and expand its citizenry.
The Kingdom of God is that entity in which those who are part of it recognize and submit to the rule of the Father and Son. A person becomes part of it by being born again, and those who are born again become sons of God. God's Kingdom as presently configured consists of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and all the children of God who have entered the Family of God by means of God's calling, being born again, and receiving God's Holy Spirit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part One)
Christ gives two clear distinctions about Himself in these verses. First, He says that He was not really a part of the Jewish nation, and further, not really of this world. Second, He says that if His Kingdom were of this world, His servants would fight for Him. The implication is that because they are not of this world, they do not go to war because His Kingdom is not presently established on earth.
This presents us with a vivid example of "us and them." The basis of this is that a Christian's loyalty is elsewhere. A true Christian sides with the spirit, while the merely professing Christian sides with the world, claiming to know God and to worship God, but denying Him by his works.
God has given us a clear command to come out of this world (II Corinthians 6:17; Revelation 18:4), and He clarifies it with examples such as this. In Philippians 3:20, He says through the apostle Paul that our citizenship is in heaven, and anyone familiar with the Bible ought to understand the legal ramifications of that. Not only that, we understand that His Kingdom is here only in spirit; it is not fully established as part of the earthly systems. The suggestion in verse 37 is that when it is fully established, if it were challenged, Christ's servants, true Christians, would go to war on its behalf, because our loyalties, our orientation, that which the true Christian sides with, are always with God's Kingdom. We will always rally to the things of the spirit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian and the World (Part Two)
Many professing Christians view everything from the perspective of this world, blindly assuming it is God's world. They see certain forces of evil in it, which they feel they must oppose. In this vein, they see the Christian duty as working to make this a better world.
However, this concept does not square with Scripture. The Bible speaks of Christ “deliver[ing] us from this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4). Human society is not of God's making, but Satan's, as are its systems of government, basic philosophies, and business and religious practices. All nations are deceived, swayed, manipulated by the Devil (Revelation 12:9; 20:2-3). In other words, our civilization is Satan's handiwork, not God's.
God's Word tells us to flee from the midst of Babylonian society (Isaiah 52:11; II Corinthians 6:17; Revelation 18:4). Speaking to the Jews, Jesus says, “You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world” (John 8:23). Later, when questioned by Pilate about His Kingdom, “Jesus answered, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here'” (John 18:36). Although Jesus lived in this world, He clearly saw Himself as a “citizen” of God's heavenly Kingdom. The same holds true of those who follow Him (Philippians 3:20).
Martin G. Collins
Would Jesus Christ Vote? (Part One)
Philippians 3:20-21 remains in the present tense, but the teaching is essentially the same as I Corinthians 15:25-28. Verse 20 begins by asserting that we are now a colony of people whose real citizenship is in heaven. "Citizenship" indicates a fellowship or society all living under the same administration, but in this case, not living in the land of their citizenship. When we see this in context with His purpose, God is already drawing the church as a body into oneness with Him. Paul then goes on to assure us that by His power Christ will complete the process—even to transforming our bodies to be like His! What an awesome oneness to anticipate!
Paul began the section in verses 17-19 by contrasting two groups, and the difference between the two lies in the way each lives. He implies that those who are citizens of heaven are one, and they have a fellowship whose characteristics are opposite to "the enemies of the cross of Christ" (verse 18). They will end in destruction because they have "set their mind on earthly things" (verse 19). As a people living by sight, they are not in control of their flesh, their carnal nature.
Paul must have used "heaven" in verse 20 to emphasize how vast the difference between the two groups is. Heaven represents the unreachable to those whose minds are fixed upon goals limited to the earthly, carnal gratification of their senses. Though satisfying the self may be much easier at the moment, God says living that way will end in destruction.
Because we are reaching for something we cannot see, hear, smell, touch, or taste, the carnal mind perceives living by faith as wasting life on the unreachable or as living a daydream or fantasy. Why pursue something that never gives any immediate gratification? God, however, hastens to reassure us that He has the will and the power to bring us into this oneness with Him (verse 21).
John W. Ritenbaugh
All in All
The world generally interprets the statements regarding Enoch being translated (as in the KJV and other translations) to mean that Enoch was taken to heaven. That is simply untrue, as it contradicts other scriptures. For instance, Hebrews 9:27 states, "And it is appointed for men to die once." In context, this is showing Christ's commonality with mankind: Even as it is appointed for men to die once because of sin, so the perfect Christ died once as a sacrifice in mankind's behalf to pay for sin. If what the world says about Enoch's translation is true, Enoch did not die, creating a contradiction in Scripture.
Jesus makes an authoritative declaration regarding what happens after death in John 3:13, "No one has ascended to heaven but He that came down from heaven," meaning Himself. Who would know better than Jesus? "No one" certainly includes Enoch. Peter declares in Acts 2:29-34 that one as great as David has not risen to heaven either, but is still in the grave.
Hebrews 11:32 lists several other significant people of faith who served God with zeal. The section concludes, "And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us" (verses 39-40). These and many more unnamed saints are awaiting the resurrection of the dead and glorification in God's Kingdom. This also applies to Enoch.
The term taken away (NKJV) or translated (KJV) in Hebrews 11:5 simply means "transferred." Enoch was transferred or conveyed from one place on earth to another to escape violence aimed against him. In this other earthly place, he died like all men.
We experience a spiritual form of this, as Colossians 1:13 shows: "He has delivered us from the power of darkness, and conveyed (translated, KJV) us into the kingdom of the Son of His love." Because we are justified and therefore reconciled to God through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ, our true spiritual citizenship is now transferred to the Kingdom of God. The implication of this is that with this transfer comes the obligation to live and walk representing the Kingdom of God's way of life. Enoch's walk by faith tells us that he set aside his own carnal preferences and will, bowing in obedience before God's will and submitting his life to God's desires for him. Enoch did so by faith, which is why he pleased God.
Jude 14-16 adds a factor that needs consideration:
Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, "Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him." These are murmurers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage.
Abel was a keeper of sheep and suffered a violent death. Enoch, however, was a preacher and undoubtedly walked to the beat of a different drummer than those around him. As a preacher, he probably gave messages that made others feel ill at ease with him, and it appears that this put him in danger of a violent death, precipitating his miraculous transfer to a safer place.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Four)
1 Peter 1:1-2
It is the life that is obedient to God and separated from the world that provides the proof of one's conversion. If the Christian is legally cleared of guilt before God and obedient to Him, he no longer "belongs" to the world; the Bible no longer perceives such a person as being "in the flesh."
Philippians 3:20 offers understanding of another separation from the world: "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." His spiritual separation produces for the Christian a legal transfer of citizenship that he must recognize.
Colossians 1:12-13 confirms this: "Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love." As a result of these separations, the Christian must live his life as a stranger and pilgrim as if in a foreign land, obeying the laws of his new nation by placing higher priority in his activities as a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
This opens the door to another line of practical thought, conduct, and attitude: "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself the enemy of God" (James 4:4). We normally do whatever we can to avoid our enemies, even to the point of fleeing from them if necessary. This reality should help us to understand why God commands us:
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? . . . Therefore "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you." (II Corinthians 6:14, 17)
It is by means of conduct motivated by the Holy Spirit that we are to come out from among unbelievers and be separate. We cannot—we must not—straddle the fence; we cannot serve two masters. Once we are called, we must serve God, or we will have received God's grace in vain (II Corinthians 6:1).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Seven)
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
Sign up for the Berean: Daily Verse and Comment, and have Biblical truth delivered to your inbox. This daily newsletter provides a starting point for personal study, and gives valuable insight into the verses that make up the Word of God. See what over 145,000 subscribers are already receiving each day.
We respect your privacy. Your email address will not be sold, distributed, rented, or in any way given out to a third party. We have nothing to sell. You may easily unsubscribe at any time.