“From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say,
“Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand
It is not possible to know what Galileans thought of heaven or how deeply the Hellenistic cosmography which saw the earth as nestled at the center of seven spheres had penetrated the Jerusalem Judaism familiar to Matthew; Paul does speak of being caught up to the third heaven (II Corinthians 12:2). We can know that in the Hebrew Scriptures as in the New Testament Heaven is the dwelling place of God, from Deuteronomy to Our Lord’s prayer to our Father who art in heaven that His will may be done on earth as it is in heaven. In the Hebrew Scriptures the kingdom is David’s kingdom or its successor, an earthly kingdom promised by God to His chosen people, but in the New Testament the Kingdom of heaven and the Kingdom of the Messiah is not of this world (John `18:36).
In its fullest sense the Kingdom of Heaven is the home of the Blessed Trinity, although it is perhaps better to think of the Trinity as somehow containing heaven rather than conceiving heaven as the location of God, with Christ at His center, Jesus the crown of creation, himself including everything that is the will of the Father and therefore good. John and Paul, apostles but as well the greatest theologians, saw that Christ is from the beginning, and that everything that belongs to God’s good will exists in him from the beginning, So John says of Jesus, “He was God; He was in the beginning with God and all things were made through Him and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:2–3). And Paul: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for in him all things were created, in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities of authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things find their place. He is the head of the body the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:15–20).
The Revelation of the prophet John shows us the glory of heaven: A door was opened into heaven and the prophet saw Christ enthroned in the rainbow glory of the Father, the sevenfold spirit proceeding from him as the elect of Israel, the Gentiles, and animate nature sing endlessly to the glory of the Lamb who although slain lives forever (4:1–5:14). The Book of Hebrews gives us a rough census of the kingdom of heaven: innumerable angels in festal gathering, the assembly of the firstborn, God who is judge of all, the spirits of just men made perfect, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant (12:31–34).
This is the glorious kingdom of heaven that Jesus tells is very near, even at the door. So how does this glory enter human history? Through the mission of Christ, the Second Person made flesh, His forgiveness of our sins by His death, His vindication as judge with His resurrection, and His gift of the Holy Spirit. Through the apostolic mission that He appoints those whom Christ calls are privileged to enjoy what Saint Paul calls the firstfruits of the Kingdom. Those firstfruits are realized at Pentecost, when the prophecies of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the other prophets were fulfilled. They had prophesied of a New Covenant. “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel. I will put my law within them and I will write it upon their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people, and I will forgive their iniquities” (Jeremiah 31: 32-34). “And it shall come to pass that I will pour out my Spirit in all flesh” (Joel 2: 38, cf. Ezekiel 18:30–32; Hebrews 8:8–13). This is the covenant whose blood Jesus established when He said: “This is my blood of the New Covenant” (Luke 22:20).
The kingdom of heaven in this world is the kingdom of the new heart created by the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, when Peter, reciting the word of the prophet Joel, stood up and said to the pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost: “This Jesus God raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this which you see and hear. “ What they saw was tongues of fire, the fire to whose kindling Jesus had looked forward eagerly (Luke 12:49), resting on every head; what they heard was the message of the universal knowledge of the Gospel of Christ, spoken by Galileans, heard and understood by each in his own native language (Acts 2:7–8). The result of this display of the power of God was repentance and a desire to receive the Holy Spirit (2:38–42).
This is the first fruits, the presence of the Kingdom of heaven in this world’s history, its ability to renew the human heart attesting the promise that in the end the new city of God will come down from heaven to earth, to a renewed creation that fulfills God’s purpose that He will be our God and we His people in the kingdom of no hurt when He wipes the tears from our eyes and there is no more pain or death (Revelation 21:1–22:5).
The mission of Jesus and of the apostolic mission He commissioned is to colonize the fallen earth on behalf of the eternal and glorious kingdom of heaven (Matthew 28:18–20, 10:40), made present at Pentecost in the community of the new heart, which Paul called the firstfruits of the coming glory, present in fullness when the new heaven and the new earth come down out of heaven from God, when He will be our God and we will be his people (Revelation 21:2,4). To this hope the Church is the eternal witness, beginning in Jerusalem and Judea and extending to the furthest parts of the earth while time shall last. Jesus says to the Prophet John, the last words recorded in his Revelation, Surely, I am coming soon,” to which John replies, “Let it be so; come Lord Jesus” (22:20). And the Church ever replies, “He will come again in glory.”