Do you know that Jesus Christ used the word “church” only three times in just two verses in the Bible? Do you also know that the use of the word “church” by Jesus is only recorded in the book of Matthew? Other gospels, Mark, Luke, and John, have no record of the word, either by Jesus or any other person,
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (New King James Version). This is the first use of the word “church.”
Also, Jesus said in Matthew 18:17, “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (New King James Version). That refers to how to deal with a sinning brother.
Do you know that the emphasis of Jesus during His ministry of the earth was the kingdom of heaven as the book of Matthew puts it or the kingdom of God as Mark, Luke, and John put it? Matthew also uses the term “kingdom of God” in Matthew 6:33, 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43.
It has been argued that the use of the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” instead of “the kingdom of God” in the book of Mathew is because the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day showed reverence for God, and, therefore avoided pronouncing His name. It was usually substituted with another word such as “heaven.” Some Jews still do this today. Although some people try to differentiate between “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God”, others believe they are synonyms.
The kingdom of heaven is “an expression used in the New Testament to signify the reign, dispensation, or administration of Jesus Christ” (American Tract Society Dictionary). Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary says, “The kingdom of God means the rule or reign of God in the entire universe, in the world, and in our hearts. The primary indication of the presence of the kingdom in the world is the transformation of life, both individually and socially. A person enters the kingdom not by saying the right words, but by doing ‘the will of My father in heaven.’” There are both present and future dimensions of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 12:28; 13:43; 25:34). The kingdom will be fully realized at the second coming of Christ.
The first use of the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” was by John the Baptist. He said in Matthew 3:2, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (New King James Version). When Jesus started His ministry, He continued preaching the kingdom of heaven, which John had preached before he was cast into prison. Matthew 4:17 says, “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (New King James Version).
Do you also know that in Matthew 5 where the Bible records the teaching of Jesus often referred to as “The Beatitudes”, Jesus put emphasis on the kingdom of heaven? He said in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (New King James Version). Jesus also said in Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (New King James Version).
Teaching further, Jesus said, “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” (verse 19 New King James Version).
Jesus also said in verse 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” (New King James Version).
How often do you think of, talk about, or prepare yourself for the kingdom of heaven? Are you concerned about the kingdom of heaven or only about the church? Do you know that the church, ekklesia (Greek), those called out from the world, should be a tool to bring more people into the kingdom of heaven?
According to Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, the word “ekklesia” is used 115 times in the New Testament, mostly in the Book of Acts and the writings of the apostle Paul and the general epistles. It notes that at least 92 times this word refers to a local congregation while the other references are to the church general or all believers everywhere for all ages.
Do you know that the goal of the church should be the kingdom of heaven? Are you interested in bringing more people into the kingdom of heaven or only in the numerical growth of your church or the spread of your denomination?
Jesus commanded His disciples in Matthew 10:7, “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (New King James Version). Earlier in Matthew 7:21, He said, “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” (New King James Version).
He also said in Matthew 8:11 that many would come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven but the sons of the kingdom would be cast out into outer darkness where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
He said 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” (New King James Version). According to Jesus, the little children should be allowed to come to Him and not be forbidden, for of such is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:14).
Jesus always wanted people to enter the kingdom of heaven. He rebuked the religious leaders for hindering others from entering and not entering themselves. “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13 New King James Version).
Jesus said every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old (Matthew 13:52). He said He would give His disciples the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever they bound on earth would be bound in heaven, and whatever they loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:19).
When His disciples asked Him who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus said that whoever humbled himself as a little child was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1, 4). Furthermore, He said in Matthew 19:23 that it was hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Using both the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God in the same discussion, He added that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (verse 24).
When Jesus spoke about John the Baptist, eulogizing Him, He also spoke about Him in relation to the kingdom of heaven. “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:11-12 New King James Version).
Do you know that many of the parables of Jesus were about the kingdom of heaven/kingdom of God? “And the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Why do You speak to them in parables?’ He answered and said to them, ‘Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given’” (Matthew 13:10-11 New King James Version).
Here are some of the parables of Jesus about the kingdom of heaven recorded in the book of Matthew:
1. The parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30).
2. The parable of a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32).
3. The parable of the leaven (Matthew 13:33).
4. The parable of the hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44).
5. The parable of the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45-46).
6. The parable of a dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50).
7. The parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35).
8. The parable of workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).
9. The parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:2-14).
10. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13).
11. The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30).
From the foregoing, Jesus underscored the importance of the kingdom of heaven, the need to enter into it, and how to. Some of these parables are also recorded in the other gospels. While talking about marriage and divorce, He said among other things that some were born as from their mother’s womb, some were made eunuchs by men while some made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:12).
The emphasis of Jesus was on the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God as used alone in Mark, Luke, and John and used interchangeably with the kingdom of heaven in the book of Matthew. The word “church” began to occur more in the Bible after the birth of the church on the Day of Pentecost. Nevertheless, the church must never lose focus on the kingdom of heaven.
We must not allow the word “church” to be reduced to an organization, denomination, or institution and lose sight of the church as a vehicle to convey people into the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven which Jesus preached before the birth of the church must remain the goal of every Christian. We must not be like the scribes and Pharisees, who shut up the kingdom of heaven against men ¬– they neither went in nor allowed those who were entering to go in (Matthew 23:13).
If you are not born again, you need to give your life to Jesus now. I urge you to take the following steps: *Admit that you are a sinner and that you cannot save yourself and repent of your sins. *Confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. *Renounce your past way of life – your relationship with the devil and his works. *Invite Jesus into your life. *As a mark of seriousness to mature in the faith, start attending a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church. There they will teach you how to grow in the Kingdom of God.
Kindly say this prayer now: O Lord God, I come unto You today. I know I am a sinner, and I cannot save myself. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to save me and resurrected the third day. I repent of my sins and confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I surrender my life to Jesus now and invite Him into my heart. By this prayer, I know I am saved. Thank You, Jesus, for saving me and making me a child of God.
I believe you have said this prayer from your heart. Congratulations! You will need to join a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church in your area where they will teach you how to live your new life in Christ Jesus. I pray that you flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar of Lebanon. May you grow into Christ in all things and become all God wants you to be. I will be glad to hear from you. The Lord be with you.
PRAYER POINTS: Holy Spirit, convict the world of its sin, God’s righteousness, and the coming judgment that they may repent and come into the kingdom of heaven. Uphold all those that are in the kingdom that they will not fall away. Help the church to be focused on bringing more people into the kingdom. Father, let Your kingdom come; let Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
This is wisdom for living, and it’s worth sharing. Please share.
(For over 600 in-depth and powerful messages by T. O. Banso, visit www.cedarministry.org).
▪︎ Banso heads Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria; firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com;
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