The kingdom of heaven was introduced by John the Baptist in Matthew 3:2, when he said, "...Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” We know that John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus, and our first thought is that he is introducing Jesus as the kingdom of heaven. But, we should not draw a conclusion from only one verse of scripture, so let's look at Matthew 4:17. Here Jesus is speaking, and He too is saying, "...Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus' message is the same as that of John the Baptist. This leads us to the conclusion that Jesus is not the kingdom of heaven.
Another thought is that perhaps the teachings of Jesus are the kingdom of heaven and that when He begins to teach, the kingdom arrives. However, we find out that in Matthew 10:7, Jesus tells His disciples to, " And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’" Jesus had already begun His public ministry, so His teachings can't be the kingdom.
To help us find out what the kingdom of heaven is, let's find out who is eligible to enter this kingdom. Matthew 5:3, tells us, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom heaven." A literal translation from the Greek is, "Blessed are the destitute, the bankrupt in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Those who are bankrupt in spirit are those whose spirits are unregenerated. We were bankrupt and destitute in spirit before we met Jesus, but now we have God's riches!
The poor and the riches we are referring to have nothing to do with money. A person can have a lot of money and still be bankrupt in his spirit. Likewise, someone may be born again and rich in spirit, but not have a dime in his pocket. However, if you are rich in spirit, God can get you the wealth of the world.
The kingdom of heaven is also for those who are righteous. Matthew 5:20, Jesus told the disciples, " 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."
I'm sure that the disciples looked at each other and said, "we have to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees? Those guys pray seven times a day and go the synagogue three times a day. They give a lot of money; they fast often,. How can we exceed their righteousness?"
What Jesus is bringing out is that the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is self-righteousness, but what is going to get a person into the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven is the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ! It cannot be bought. you cannot pray hard enough to get it. You accept it by faith. So, the disciples could breathe easier knowing that they truly could be more righteous than the Pharisees.
Matthew 7:21, says "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." I am thoroughly convinced that there are people who say they are born again who aren't. They just mouthed the words but didn't mean them with their heart. The Word of God says that you have to believe in your heart before you confess with your mouth. You must believe God raised Jesus from the dead. This is a dedication of your life to the Lord Jesus Christ, it's not just mouthing words so that you can have some Christian acquaintances. It's not just mouthing the words so that you feel a little more comfortable in the church. As Jesus said in Matthew 21:31, to get into the kingdom, you have to do the will of the Father.
Become as a Little Child
We learn more about entering the kingdom of heaven from Matthew 18:1-3, "At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."
I want you to notice what this doesn't say. "Become as a little child then be converted." It says to be converted and then become as a little child. In other words, to get into the kingdom of God, first of all, you have to come before Him, receive Jesus as Your Lord and Savior, then become as a little child. Have you ever noticed that a little child never questions what you give him? He grabs first and then asks questions. But, when the Lord wants to give us something, we want to question first and then receive.
The Bible says that every good and perfect gift comes down from above (James 1:7). So when God offers you something, grab it! When God says, "I want to give you provisions. I want to give you prosperity." Don't sit there and question it, receive what God offers!
How to be Great in the Kingdom
Matthew 18:4 tells us how to be great in the kingdom once we entered it. "Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
What He is bringing out here is that you becoming childlike is what makes you great. This is the opposite of becoming great in the world. To be great in the world, you have to butter up the boss and step on people. You do things that help you climb the ladder. But Jesus says, "In my kingdom, you humble yourself. When you walk into a room, take the low seat and I will see to it you are exalted in My kingdom." This leads us to the conclusion that in the kingdom of heaven there is rank. There are degrees. In other words, if you can be great in the kingdom, you can also be least in the kingdom. If you can be high in the kingdom, then apparently you can be low in the kingdom.
How to be Least in the Kingdom
In Matthew 5:19, Jesus is speaking against the scribes and Pharisees. "Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."
The scribes and Pharisees see little things and big things in the Law and they keep certain things and not others. Jesus warns them to watch out for the little things, to make sure they keep the little parts of the Law, the jots, and tittles. For example, while they may not outwardly commit murder, they hate their brothers and that is the same as murder.
He is telling them to watch out for the whole of the Word of God. He warns them not to grab one particular thing and make a doctrine out of it, then shove aside the rest of the Word. Denominations have done this. They have taken a part of the Word of God and built doctrines on it and pushed out the rest of the Word.
You become least in the kingdom by isolating scriptures, making doctrines out of them and forgetting the rest of the Word. You become great in the kingdom by becoming as a child and keeping all the Word. Walk in wholeness before the Lord. Walk in sanctified lifestyles before the Lord. Walk in praise; walk in worship; walk in the Word; pray in the Spirit. Have study times. Minister to your enemies. He says, "Become all things in the Word of God. That's how to become great in the kingdom of heaven.
The Kingdom of Heaven
The kingdom of heaven is comprised of two time periods, the church age and the Tribulation. The kingdom of heaven began at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and it will end when Jesus returns from heaven to set up His reign on this earth. In other words, the kingdom of heaven is the time when Jesus is absent from the earth. The period of time from when He arose and sat down at the right hand of the Father until the day that He returns to set up His kingdom on this earth is called the kingdom of heaven. During this time the Holy Spirit operates in a new way and the church is manifested most of the kingdom of heaven.
During the Tribulation when the church is gone, God will again turn to the nation of Israel. At this time, He will work with the Jews until the Second Advent when the millennial reign begins. This is what Ephesians 1:10 refers to as the "dispensation of the fullness of times." This is when Jesus will return to this earth and establish His kingdom. And when He does, it will be a kingdom for Jews and Gentiles, for all nations alike.