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Love Torah, Love God. Hate Torah, Hate God.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13 ESV)

Love is kind, selfless, forgiving, and compassionate. This is easy for anyone to understand. If someone needs help, you help him. If someone is hurt, you make him feel better. If someone is rude, you respond with politeness. If someone is angry, you speak kindly to him. Love your neighbor as yourself. This is childishly simple, so why do we still disagree so vehemently about what it means to love someone?

  • You want your neighbors to be considerate to you, so be considerate to your neighbors.
  • You want people to let you merge on the freeway, so you let others merge.
  • You want ice cream and chocolate for supper, so give your children ice cream and chocolate for supper.
  • You want to be able to pour your used motor oil down the storm drain, so smile when your neighbors pour their used antifreeze down the drain.
  • You want to wipe your boogers on the handrails, so shake his hand when your coworker does the same.
  • You want to be able to marry the person you love, so let the sex offender down the block marry the person he loves too.

What could be simpler than “Love your neighbor as yourself?”

Sarcasm, maybe. That might be simpler sometimes.

Go back and read 1 Corinthians 13, the “Love Chapter”, again. Do you see the one, glaring element that modern America’s idea of love seems to have forgotten? Let me lay it out for you:

Love does not rejoice in sin, but rejoices in the truth.

In other words, love doesn’t tolerate open and deliberate sin. It doesn’t celebrate it and threaten to boycott, fire, and even kill people who call sin “sin” and refuse to participate in it. Instead, it rebukes sin and corrects errors. (Not Westboro Baptist correction, but correction that incorporates all the rest of love too. “God hates fags!” is probably not an appropriate response to the two gay guys who use the same grocery store, but neither is offering to cater their wedding. )

Unlike the sarcastic list above, these things are true love:

  • Feeding a child vegetables for supper even when he wants ice cream.
  • Stopping your neighbor from dumping used motor oil or antifreeze down the drain.
  • Closing your offices on the Sabbath.
  • Executing murderers.
  • Politely, but firmly correcting people who are inconsiderate, unsafe, or indecent in public spaces.

In short, “Love your neighbor” doesn’t mean “Congratulate your neighbor for every rude, obscene, or perverse thing he feels like doing.” It means speaking the truth and defending public morality.
That doesn’t mean you are free to force everyone to do the right thing in every circumstance. Nobody can even agree on what the right thing is all the time; how can we enforce what we can’t even define? Here’s a good rule of thumb for deciding what should and shouldn’t be outlawed, tolerated, allowed, or approved:

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

Does God say we should punish one behavior and tolerate another? Great! Let’s do that. I’m not saying that making Torah the law of the land will solve all our problems. For one thing, we have hundreds of sects and denominations fighting over what various commandments mean, but those who are committed to keeping God’s Law will all agree on 90% of it. Those who look for reasons to ignore this or that commandment are as reliable and uniform as a stormy sea.

If you don’t believe in the God of the Bible at all, then I’m not writing to you now. Perhaps I’ll address the pragmatic arguments for a biblical morality some other time. Until then, I’m only writing for those who claim to believe in God and His word, which says

  • God loves those who love Him and keep His commandments. (Exodus 20:6, Deuteronomy 5:10, Deuteronomy 7:9, Deuteronomy 11:22-23, Deuteronomy 30:16, Nehemiah 1:5, Nehemiah 13:22, Psalm 25:10, Proverbs 11:20, Daniel 9:4, Colossians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:1, Revelation 3:12)
  • If you love God, you will keep His commandments. (Deuteronomy 11:1, Deuteronomy 11:22-23, Deuteronomy 19:9, Deuteronomy 30:16, Joshua 22:5, Daniel 9:4, John 14:15, John 14:24, 1 John 5:2-3, 2 John 1:6)
  • If you love your neighbor, you will keep God’s commandments. (Exodus 22:22, Deuteronomy 26:13, Romans 13:8-10, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, 1 John 4:20-21)

On the other hand, if you hate God and if you hate your neighbor, then by all means, do as you please. There’s a place for you in God’s plan too. (Matthew 22:13)

America can only have a shifting, devolving morality until someone stronger and steadier kicks us off the hill or we  repent and turn back to God and His commandments. We’d better make our choice soon. God has only allowed us to continue this far so that there will be no mistaking why we were judged. I don’t believe it’s too late quite yet, but our repentance must be complete and it must be now.

Love God - Love Torah
If you love God, you will love His Law. If you hate God, you will hate His Law.

Have No Enemies: being made perfect by love

The Didache is an ancient Christian writing that purports to be a summary of the teachings of the Apostles. The most interesting things about this particular writing are that it dates from the first century, from the very earliest years of the Gentile congregations, and that it was considered by many early Christians to be authoritative Scripture.

For the next couple of weeks [posted June 17, 2015] I’ll be tweeting highlights and thoughts derived from the Didache at Twitter. You can read along for free at Early Christian Writings or buy your own copy at Amazon.

The first chapter of the Didache focuses on the second greatest commandment, love your neighbor as yourself, through a series of instructions on living out the commandment, all of which are directly derived from other Scriptures, both Old and New Testament.

For example, one instruction says “Love them that hate you, and you will have no enemy.”

The kindergarten level interpretation of this is if you are nice to those who are mean to you, they’ll change their minds and be nice to you in return. Of course we all learn very quickly that it doesn’t really work that way. So what could the writer have meant?

If you return love for hate, most of your enemies will continue to hate you. They might hate you even more than at first.

If you return kindness for cruelty, your afflicter may become even crueler than before.

But be sure of this: Your enemy will no longer be your enemy. He will be the enemy of God, punishing you for the goodness of God that he sees in you. More importantly, he will be his own enemy, fighting to keep his own spirit from hearing the testimony of your actions. Your kindness will become the instrument through which God disciplines his soul, sealing his condemnation if he doesn’t repent or transforming him if he does.

The Didache also repeats Yeshua’s words, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also,” adding “and you will be made perfect.”

"Turn the other cheek" isn't about pacifism, but about temperance & forgiveness.
“Turn the other cheek” isn’t about pacifism, but about temperance & forgiveness.

Yeshua wasn’t telling us to be pacifists. That’s the kindergarten interpretation again. He was telling us to be slow to anger and don’t make overly quick conclusions about another’s motivations. Don’t immediately react to violence with violence. Rather, learn to control your passions in order to better judge every situation. Maybe you were struck by accident or because of a misunderstanding. If you discover that someone does indeed intend to do you harm, by all means defend yourself and others.

By mastering self-control, patience, and good judgment, you will become a better person and more Christ-like. This is what it means to “be made perfect.”

Understand also that love and kindness will not always appear as you might expect. Do you love your own soul? Then cut off your hand if it makes you to sin.

We know that God’s Law is the working out of love in an imperfect world. It is a reflection of the character of a perfect Creator who wants only the best for His Creations. Where it forbids, it forbids out of love. Where it allows, it allows out of love.

Be kind. Be patient. But also be wise.

(See here for thoughts on why The Didache cannot be included in the Biblical canon.)

The Freedom of Knowing One’s Limitations

I don't care.   Signed, Reality.Reality doesn’t care what you think. Consequences follow action, intended or not.

Order and hierarchy have been inherent in God’s plan from the very beginning, whether among the angels, in the Garden of Eden, among men, or within families. Although the laws that govern spiritual authority are not as readily subject to experiment and objective verification as the laws that govern chemical reactions, they are just as real and just as inviolable. A man who continually drinks dilute amounts of drano will eventually suffer from alkaline poisoning whether he learned the lessons of high school chemistry or not. He might get away with it for a short while, but the consequences of his actions will catch up with him.

The same is true of those who reject spiritual authority. Women who reject the spiritual covering of their fathers or husbands, men who reject the authority of God’s anointed prophets and judges, children who reject the authority of their parents… They might live indefinitely believing that they have chosen their own path, that they have found freedom in self-governance. Really, they have left one service for another and gained nothing lasting in the transaction.

After all, who is more free? The slave whose master will defend him and trusts him with a great deal of autonomy? Or the escaped slave who has no resources, no shelter, and who has become an open and defenseless target for abuse and re-enslavement by another master?

The latter may appear to have more freedom in the immediate sense of having no allegiance and no duty to a higher power, but in the long run, his available choices will be severely limited and possibly eliminated altogether because he does not understand the laws of the world in which he lives.

The Law of Sin & Death: Sin Separates Us from God

2 Kings 7:8-9  And when these lepers came to the edge of the camp, they went into a tent and ate and drank, and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and went and hid them. Then they came back and entered another tent and carried off things from it and went and hid them.  (9)  Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household.”

The four lepers had a major windfall. They expected death and found life and riches instead. They could have kept on gathering and stockpiling with no one the wiser, but they remembered their starving brothers and shared their knowledge, bringing life to the entire city.

Romans 6:20-23  For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  (21)  But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.  (22)  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.  (23)  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Tazria and Metsora (this week’s Torah readings from Leviticus 12-15) are about things that cause separation from God, i.e. spiritual death, among his people. Even if they are already saved, already members of “the king’s household,” they might not know that their actions adulterate their life with death. When we were slaves to sin, we were not bound by any considerations of righteousness. But now that we have been set free from sin, we are bound to obey God, i.e. to do what is righteous.

Therein lies life.

Continuing in sin will only put us in bondage again because sin separates us from our Creator.

We are not set free and given eternal life just to sin, but rather to obey a different master. Continuing in sin will only put us in bondage again because sin separates us from our Creator. Disobedience brings death. Once we know that there is a better way, that there are choices and actions that increase our separation from the world while decreasing our separation from God, like the four lepers in 2 Kings 7, we are bound by love for our neighbors to share that knowledge.

Look for opportunities in your day to share your knowledge of greater life, to tell someone how to reduce the separation engendered by disobedience and to draw closer to our Creator.

Eating Meat Sacrificed to Idols

James and the elders in Jerusalem told the new gentile converts not to eat meat sacrificed to idols (Acts 15 & 21). Paul told them there is nothing wrong with eating so long as you don’t do it in front of anyone who believes it’s wrong (1 Corinthians 8 & 10). And then Yeshua castigated two churches in the Revelation for teaching people to eat food sacrificed to idols (Revelation 2). Or at least that’s what many of us have been taught. More likely, you haven’t been taught anything about it at all except that all rules about what you can and cannot eat have been thrown out.

Actually, James and Yeshua were talking about something that is–and remains–very clearly wrong while Paul was talking about a fine point of law about which intelligent and reasonable people could easily disagree.

Temple sacrifices, both biblical and pagan, involve killing an animal, performing some ritual with its blood or carcass and then eating some or all of the animal. A sacrifice was often occasion for a community feast. The Greeks had a word for the sacrificial animal and the ensuing roast: eidolothuton. That’s the word that Yeshua and the Apostles used when they talked about meat sacrificed to idols. As far as the ritual goes, the religion of the Jews and that of the Greeks would have looked very similar to people in the first century. However, there is one major difference: sacrifices made to Yahweh in the Temple in Jerusalem actually accomplished something real, while sacrifices made in any of the thousands of pagan shrines did absolutely nothing but keep people distracted from the truth and enslaved to sin. God absolutely forbade his people from participating in the eidolothuton. He called it adultery. James and Yeshua reaffirmed that prohibition.

Then Paul came along and started telling people that it was alright to eat the eidolothuton so long as they understood that it was just meat with no supernatural significance. Some will tell you that this is because Yeshua did away with all the rules about what you can eat and what you can’t. Since Yeshua said otherwise many years after Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, that doesn’t really make sense. So what did Paul really mean?

Here’s what Paul was actually trying to tell the Corinthians:

There is no spiritual significance to meat sacrificed to idols beyond that attributed to it in the minds of those who participate in the sacrifice. It has no actual power in itself and can do you no spiritual harm or good through eating it as mere food and not as a religious observance. If you eat a steak that once happened to belong to a bull sacrificed to Z–s, what of it? If you aren’t eating it as a sacrificial animal, but merely as a steak, then there’s no problem. You could even eat it in the god’s temple. So long as you have no thoughts to honor the false god (or the true God for that matter) through the eating of sacrificial meat, then you aren’t actually participating in the eidolothuton, and you’ve committed no sin.

If you buy a rack of lamb in the market, don’t worry about whether or not it was sacrificed to an idol. If you don’t know one way or another then it can’t possibly do you any harm.

However, many people who have lived their whole lives in pagan idolatry could never eat such a meal without thinking that they were somehow honoring the idol. If they were to see you in the temple of Z–s, eating the eidolothuton, might they think that you too believe there is spiritual power of some kind in the actual flesh of the sacrificed animal? If they are led astray, thinking it now acceptable to participate in an idolatrous ritual as a religious observance, then you have done him a severe disservice. I would rather never eat meat again than cause someone who misunderstood my actions to revert to idolatry.

Paul was not making a statement about clean vs unclean meat and was certainly not dismissing any part of God’s Law. He kept Torah all his life, even to the point of taking a Nazirite vow and bringing sacrifices to the Temple after he had been preaching to the gentiles for many years. He wrote to the Corinthians was to clarify the law, not to annul it.

Because He Said So

And it will be, if you shall listen carefully to the voice of Yahweh your God, to observe and to do all His commandments which I command you today, Yahweh your God will set you on high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come on you and overtake you, if you will listen to the voice of Yahweh your God….(Deuteronomy 28:1-2)

If you will not observe to do all the words of this Law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and fearful name, Yahweh Elohim, then Yahweh will make your plagues remarkable, and the plagues of your seed great and persistent plagues; with evil and long-lasting sicknesses….(Deuteronomy 28:58-59)

These are the words of the covenant which Yahweh commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He made with them in Horeb…. (Deuteronomy 29:1)

Therefore, keep the words of this covenant and do them, so that you may act wisely in all that you do. You stand today, all of you, before Yahweh your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and your stranger that is in your camp, from the cutter of your wood to the drawer of your water… (Deuteronomy 29:9-11)

Nor do I make this covenant and this oath with you only, but with him who stands here with us today before Yahweh our God, and also with him that is not here with us today. (Deuteronomy 29:14)

(Quotes from the MKJV.)

The Law of God applies to all men in all times who would please him by their lives: civil, religious, military, and familial leaders; men, women, and children; foreign laborers; everyone near and far, and more; all who have left the world to be called by God’s name. Once we have come out of the world (aka Egypt) to serve him, he expects us to follow his rules.

We do not obey for salvation from the final death, because Israel was saved from death in Egypt by the blood of the Passover lamb and baptized by their passage through the Red Sea before ever receiving this Covenant. Their faith in God’s promise saved them, not circumcision or observance of the Sabbath.

God wants us to obey his rules, because they are his rules. Although the Law was given for our own prosperity, it is not optional. How can we call him Lord and then act as if his commands are merely helpful suggestions?

Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to Yahweh our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our sons forever, so that we may do all the words of this Law.”

Among the “secret things” are many whys.

  • Why should we worship this way and not that way?
  • Why does it matter if a pig doesn’t chew its cud or if a rabbit doesn’t have split hooves?
  • What difference does it make if the ashes are of a red heifer or of a Holstein?

I’ve heard two interpretations of “secret things.”

  1. Deep mysteries that are irrelevant to us, are beyond our comprehension, or that might harm us if revealed. The revealed things are those which we can sense or examine.
  2. Secret sins–victimless crimes–that God deals with privately so long as they are not flaunted. The revealed things are those which are made public and have identifiably direct victims, such as murder, theft, and adultery.

In this post I dealt with the first interpretation, but I think they are probably both correct in different contexts.

We can speculate about the things God hasn’t told us, but when push comes to shove, what matters is obedience. If we really have faith in God, we will obey his Word, especially when we don’t understand it.

Seventh Day or First?

Yeshua said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. We don’t live in order to keep the Sabbath. Instead we are commanded to keep the Sabbath in order to live more fulfilling lives. Some have taken Yeshua’s statement to mean that we are free to alter the Sabbath as we see fit, even to disregard it if we choose.

If a command is given for our benefit, does that mean we have the authority to disregard it as if to refuse a gift or favor that we don’t want? Of course, not. If that were so, it wouldn’t be a command anymore. They aren’t called the Ten Suggestions.

Think of it this way: The Sabbath was made for man as paved roads are made for cars. In many cases, cars are required by law (i.e. commanded) to remain on roads. Certainly a car can drive off the roads, but they’ll last longer and stay in better shape if they don’t. What would happen if drivers just decided that since roads were made for cars and not cars for roads, then he is free to reject the roads whenever it suits him? There’d be a lot of really upset property owners, with mud tracks and ruts cut through their fields and lawns. Cars would get stuck, would wear out faster, and get more flat tires. Everyone would be more unhappy.

The Sabbath is the same way. God set the Sabbath on the seventh day and commanded us to keep it for a reason. If we all choose our own sabbath or do it our own way, we will lose most of the benefit that God intended for us. Everyone will be more unhappy. The Sabbath was made for you, but it wasn’t made for you to break it however & whenever you want.

Circumcision and Blood

Regarding circumcision, someone recently asked me,

If God is so loving, why base his entire covenant with His Chosen on violence especially against the most helpless? The whole point of Jesus’ ministry was to replace that law with a new standard of gentleness and forgiveness, so why seal it with still more violence? It just doesn’t add up to me.

His covenant was (and is) based on redemption and restoration. Circumcision is only a sign of that covenant. There is a lot of blood involved in God’s interaction with mankind. I don’t completely understand that, but I recognize a few hints. First, for whatever reason Adam chose death over life, and that decision has affected everything. The violence is already there by the actions of people, and the controlled violence of blood covenants serves in part to restrain the uncontrolled violence of mankind’s natural tendencies. Second, blood has some kind of cleansing property in a spiritual sense in that it allows God to interact with people who would otherwise be too repulsive to him. Third, blood symbolizes the life-and-death nature and permanency of covenants. It’s a solemnizer.

Yeshua fulfilled God's Law in three ways.I can understand your confusion regarding the apparent disparity between Jesus’ message of love and the necessity of his violent death. It never added up for me either. However, the problem is in our perceptions of Jesus’ ministry and purpose. He didn’t come to replace the law with a new standard. In fact, he said the exact opposite: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy [kataluo: to tear down], but to fulfil [pleroo: to build up or to carry into effect]. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” If fulfilling the law is the same as annulling it for everyone else, then Jesus’ statement here was meaningless: “I am not come to destroy, but to abolish.”

Jesus mission in regards to fulfilling the Law was three-fold. First, he completed or built up our understanding of it through his teachings on the two central commands of Torah: love God and love your neighbor. Second, he fulfilled (and will fulfill) various prophecies embedded in the Law. Third, he fulfilled the requirement of blood to allow us to approach God (or God to approach us) despite our spiritual stench. This is a physical manifestation of a spiritual law that we don’t have to understand in order to take advantage of. Something like quantum theory. The laws that govern the interactions of subatomic particles are incomprehensible to most of us, but still necessary for life. The thing that we have to acknowledge is that nothing other than the mercy shown through his blood (and no other action, inaction, or attitude) would be entirely sufficient to restore us to a right relationship with God.

For what it’s worth, you’re in good company. Moses’ wife was none too happy about circumcision, either. “Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me.” Blood is a mysterious thing that science can never quite understand, and violence does solve some problems.

More info:

Blood Draws Near by Jon Behrens
Circumcision and Cutting a Covenant by Walter Snyder

Torah vs Yeshua?

Luke wrote:
Luk 16:29-31 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

Although that conversation was ostensibly about being generous and kind, it was also a roundabout reference to eternal salvation and the resurrection of the Messiah. Through this parable, Yeshua was hinting that those who reject the testimony of Moses will also reject the Messiah and his testimony.

John wrote:
Joh 5:42-47 But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

Yeshua was accusing the Jewish elite of not having the love of God, and he referred them to the writings of Moses (the Torah) as evidence. They were trusting in the Torah for their salvation, but they never obeyed (John 7:19) or even believed what was in it. The spirit of the Law is love of God and mankind, and its primary aim is the redemption of mankind by the Messiah as the ultimate embodiment of that love. Therefore, if your life is in line with the Torah, then you are aiming at the Messiah. The converse is also true. If your life is not in line with the Torah, then you are not aiming at the Messiah.

Paul, or someone very like him, wrote:
Heb 10:28-29 He that despised [does away with, sets aside, disregards, nullifies, rejects, refuses -Thayer’s Greek Definitions] Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?

In other words, if anyone who rejects the Torah deserves to die without mercy, how much more does anyone who rejects the sacrifice of Yeshua deserve to die? This is a light and heavy argument which requires that the first premise be true before the second can be true. If rejection of the Torah does not call for death, then the second premise is meaningless. Zero multiplied by anything is still zero.

I’m not saying you have to obey–or even try to obey–the Torah to be saved. I’m saying that it’s very difficult to hit a target if you don’t know what it looks like. I’m also saying that if you really are aiming at the right target, Yeshua, then you are already obeying Torah, and your life will show it.

The Two Kingdoms of Heaven

There are at least three parts to every kingdom: the government, the nation, and the country. The government is the king and his agents, the nation is the people under the king’s authority, and the country is the physical land under the king’s control. Yeshua often spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven in seemingly contradictory ways: the Kingdom existed before he came, he brought the Kingdom with him, and the Kingdom was still to come.

Can all of these be true or was Yeshua just talking in riddles? The answer is “Yes!” All of these are true, and Yeshua was speaking in riddles.

The Kingdom of Heaven has always existed, exists wherever true believers are, and will be finally established some day with Yeshua as King. The key to understanding the New Testament references to the Kingdom of Heaven (or Kingdom of God) is to understand the three parts of a kingdom and how they can sometimes exist independently of each other.

The Kingdom of Heaven has always existed, exists wherever true believers are, and will be finally established some day with Yeshua as King.The Kingdom of Heaven, as all other kingdoms, ultimately belongs to the King of Kings. It is his to give and take away as he sees fit.

Yeshua prayed, “Our Father in Heaven…deliver us from evil, for the Kingdom is yours…”1 In other words, the Kingdom is a meritocracy and God can remove unworthy leaders in favor of the worthy. Yeshua, having more merit than anyone who has ever lived or ever will live, has been given the kingship forever.2 His viceroys and regents, however, are still elected and rejected by the Father as necessary, based on their merits3 and the needs of the Kingdom.4

The first dominion of Heaven is the nation of Israel. I don’t mean the secular State of Israel, which is another government altogether. Firstly, the nation is made up of a remnant of physical Israel, genetic descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob.5 Secondly, the nation is made up of the mixed multitude of believers who have been grafted into the tree of natural Israel.6 So everyone who calls on the name of God and believes on the name of Yeshua7 is a citizen of the nation of Israel regardless of where or when they live.

The second dominion of Heaven are the places of the Kingdom, both here on Earth and in Heaven itself. It includes the Promised Land in the Messianic Era, which Yeshua will rule from Jerusalem,8 as well as the Heavens in which the angels live and which Yeshua rules from the Crystal Sea.9 Anyone who is a citizen of those lands is also a citizen of Israel under the authority of Yeshua. (Which is not to say that anyone who is physically located in those places at any particular moment must be a citizen.)

The practical outgrowth of citizenship in the true nation of Israel is both responsibility and reward: obedience to the king’s laws10 and healing from the curses of disobedience. Fortunately, his yoke is easy, his burden is light,11 and his rewards are beyond your imagination.12 The only things you have to lose by submitting to his rule are not worth keeping.

1 Matthew 6:8-13.
2 John 1:49, John 12:12, & Acts 2:36.
3 The qualities that God seems to hold highest are selflessness, mercy, justice, and generosity.
4 Matthew 11:11-13, 13:44-46, 16:17-19, 20:20-28, 21:43, 23:1-37, & Luke 22:28-30.
5 Jeremiah 31:31-37, Ezekiel 37:15-28, Matthew 10:5-7, 15:22-28, 19:28, & Romans 9:1-11:11.
6 Exodus 12:37-38, Luke 2:32, Romans 11:12-32, Ephesians 2:8-18, & Revelation 5:8-10.
7 The name of God and the name of Yeshua are not the vocalizations and symbols by which we reference them in conversation and print, but the nature of who they are. When we call on the name of God, we are calling on his nature as just, merciful, and all powerful. When we believe on the name of Yeshua, we are believing in his ability and sufficiency to save us from the penalty of our sins.
8 Psalms 2:6-7, 53:6, 78:67-70, 110:1-7, 132:10-14, Isaiah 2:2-4, 18:7, Micah 5:2, Revelation 3:12, 21:10-22:5, & etc.
9 Revelation 4:6.
10 Matthew 5:19, 19:17, John 14:15, 14:21, 15:10, & 1 John 2:2-6.
11 Matthew 11:28-30
12 Revelation 21-22.