The Gospel of Matthew uses the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” instead of “Kingdom of God.”
Here’s why: Matthew was written specifically for a Jewish audience, while the other Gospels were written to a broader audience. The broader audience would need the more precise “Kingdom of God” in order to understand the Gospel, while Matthew’s Jewish audience understood the custom of honoring God by NOT speaking His name. (It was too holy to mention.) They understood the meaning of Matthew’s “Kingdom of Heaven” as speaking of God’s kingdom, but he also communicated a great reverence to God by using this phrase. With the use of God’s name, the Jewish audience might very well have been offended by the other Gospel writers’ use of the phrase “Kingdom of God.”
I think it’s also important to note that this phrase (both of them) refer to a here and now understanding of the presence of God. His Kingdom is not other worldly. It’s not somewhere else. Or sometime in the future. His kingdom is here and now! When Jesus came, he ushered in the beginning of the Kingdom of God – the Kingdom of Heaven is here. It is also to come and will be even more fulfilled in the future, but if we only think of His Kingdom as something off in the distant future, we are missing the reality of His presence with us here and now. He came to bring us life abundantly! Not just eternal life. Although that’s a good thing, it’s not gonna help us too much right now. But we do have help, and comfort, and peace, and power, and love, and anything we need right here and now in His Holy Spirit.
The idea of these phrases “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” also remind me of the Jewish understanding if “Shalom.” Shalom does not just mean “peace” as we use it, but it’s a much larger understanding. It’s whole peace. Shalom is to walk in the presence of God in all of life. It’s to have his favor and peace in all that one does. To walk in the “Kingdom of God” is “Shalom.”
I just thought this was interesting. Hope you did too.
Philippians 4:7 says that the peace of God transcends all understanding. I don’t understand it either, but I’ve experienced it. First of all, you should know that the Hebrew/Jewish understanding of this word “Peace” ultimately comes from their understanding of the word “Shalom.” It was a word used as a greeting, but it was so much more than “hello.” (Shout out to my “Cardinal Rise” friends – they wrote a song called “more than hello”). Anyway, “Shalom” was not just “peace.” It was all-encompassing. It was like saying “God be with you!” – May God Himself, in all His glory, shadow your every move granting you His favor and blessing throughout your life. “Peace” was huge!! It was a colossal concept of walking in the constant blessing and favor of God.
OK – on with the story. Sept 11 was normally a happy day for me. Sept 11 is my birthday!! But Sept 11, 1996 was different. (So was 2001) That day I received a call from my mom wishing me a Happy Birthday, but there was another message too. She also said that my dad had been diagnosed with leukemia. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I knew it wasn’t good. I soon discovered that it was the most aggressive type of leukemia and that dad would be going through radiation and chemotherapy. They weren’t sure how long they could deter the disease. That year was strange. I lived 5 hours away but got to see him quite a few times. He was always the same dad I had always known except he didn’t have quite as much hair. Although I know he had his down times, he had a great attitude about it around me. He even wore a baseball cap with dreadlocks hanging out when he’d go the the hospital. Mom said the nurses always laughed.
The doctors arranged for dad to be on an uphill swing during Christmas break so we could take a ski trip together. We had a great time – like normal – but not so normal either. There was always something sort of hanging in the air. It seemed harder to breathe during those days – not just for dad, but for all of us. In June of 1997, my sister and I were with a bunch of youth on a houseboat in the middle of Lake Texoma, when the boat rental people radioed to us with the message to call mom. Dad was on his deathbed. We immediately drove to the hospital in Ft Worth.
When we arrived, dad was on the breathing machine. He had contracted pneumonia and they couldn’t treat it because his body was so weak. They had also given him medications to paralyze him so his body wouldn’t fight the breathing machine. We wouldn’t be able to communicate. . . well. . .we could talk, but he wouldn’t be able to respond. Over the next 3-4 days (It’s a blur – I don’t know how many it actually was. Some of my facts may be wrong, but this is how I remember it.) we took turns going in and out of his room – telling him the things we should have said long before or just sitting with him in silence. I spent lots of time in the hospital chapel. There were lots of tears, little sleep, phone calls from friends, and something else. Something surprising. It was peace. What?!?!? at a time like this??? Peace? Yes. . . .peace. Peace that passes understanding. I cannot describe it. I only know I experienced it. . . . well, I experienced Him. Jesus was with us – in the midst of the tears, the sadness and grief, Jesus was present.
Eventually the doctors came and said the time had come to turn the machine off. It would be his one last chance to fight and breathe on his own – a chance to live. I can still picture the scene so clearly (and it’s been 12 years). I stood at his side and held his right hand. I told him that I loved him and that this world had not treated him well. (There’s another long story there.) I told him that he should go and be with Jesus ’cause this world was just not worth coming back to. I said goodbye. And. . . . something I never expected. . .dad squeezed my hand. Overpowering the paralyzing medication, he squeezed. He heard me! He knew what I had said! He loved me back! He agreed! Dad was still with us. . . . moments later . . .
Today, he is still with me. As I father my children, I do so by the examples I learned from him. As I love my bride, I do so in ways that resemble his ways. My dad was my Indian Guide leader, my little league coach, the parent who yelled the loudest at the swim meets. He took us on vacations and spent hours teaching us how to play sports, how to build things, or just simply playing with us. He loved us by being with us. I want to be that kind of dad. One who will truly invest in the lives of his family.
The words “Rest in Peace” resonate within me in new ways today. Dad has found ultimate “shalom” – I hope to follow his example. I hope to find it too.
In class last week Dr. Loken pointed out something that seems pretty basic, but it was just something I never really thought about before. Paul uses the phrase “grace and peace” alot. Here’s why – “Grace” was a standard greeting for the Gentiles. “Peace” or “Shalom” was the standard greeting for the Jews. Anyway, every time he used this phrase, he communicated that both Jews and Gentiles are one in Christ. It’s also a beautiful picture of the first century church which spread from the Jews to the Gentiles through Paul himself. Anyway, I just thought it was cool stuff!!!