In my book about the kingdom of heaven for today, I wrote a chapter listing the people who the apostle Paul and Jesus said would not inherit the kingdom. This is Jesus’s list:
(1) Those who don’t treat people any better than the Pharisees or religious leaders (Matt. 5:20).
(2) Those who don’t accept the kingdom like little children (Matt. 18:3).
(3) Those who don’t forgive (Matt. 18:21-35).
(4) Those who keep looking back (Luke 9:62).
(5) Those who trust in money for their security (Matt. 19:23).
Similar to the first on the list, in this week’s text, Jesus asked the Pharisees which of two sons did the will of his Father. They said, “The first one.” He said, “Truly I say to you, the tax collectors and harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before you do” (Matt. 21:31).
“Jesus wasn’t saying prostitutes will be first on the bus to go to ‘paradise when they die’ ahead of the Pharisees. He’s saying they will experience a sense of unity with others long before the righteous Pharisees will experience it. Their compassion and ability to share the little they have with others will bring them a personal sense that they’ve relieved the suffering of another person. Pharisees are more interested in judgment and punishment than they are on unity and compassion.
“Prostitutes might reject the piety of religion. But they meet people daily who have unmet needs, people who have not found unity within themselves. Prostitutes witness human suffering. They live in the fields where the Father beckons all to work. They have opportunities to give a few dollars to someone living behind a dumpster. In their acts of kindness, they experience connection as they provide relief to others in the mud pits of life. Acts of compassion are the evidence of a growing sense of unity with all creation.
“Jesus wasn’t condemning all scribes and Pharisees. There were and are many religious leaders who are trying to do the right things…”
In Living Color: The Kingdom of Heaven for Today © Paul W. Meier
Of course, if a person thinks the kingdom of heaven is the same as Paradise, then I’d like to hear his or her explanation of what Jesus meant by his statement.
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On another note, it’s been a while since I’ve posted consistently on this blog. I’ve been working on a few other things. Most notably, I finished a book last year that is finally ready for me to publish. It’s similar in many ways to my book about the kingdom of heaven because it explains (are you ready?) – it explains how the term “eternal life” is a reference to a specific kind of life on this earth.
How many people want to believe eternal life is experienced here on earth? Not many. Especially Christians. People don’t want to hear something they’ve never heard before. They might have to change the way they think. But let me point you to the following commentaries in three different (and traditional) study Bibles printed BEFORE the turn of this century:
Eternal life: used here for the first time in John, this term stresses quality of life rather than duration.6
Eternal life is a present possession, not something the believer will only obtain later.7
Eleven out of forty-two times eternal life is presented as something to be attained 8
In some cases, the Greek word for life (zoa), when used by itself implies a shortened reference to the term “eternal life.” An example is John 10:10 (NKJV) where Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” One commentary explains it this way:
Life here refers to eternal life, God’s life. It speaks not only of endlessness, but of quality of life.9
6 New American Standard Bible, Revised Edition, commentary on John 3:36 from United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website, http://usccb.org/bible/john/3.
7 The NIV Study Bible, New International Version, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1985), on John 3:36, 1599.
8 Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville: Nelson Bibles, 1997), on Rom. 6:23, 1890.
9 Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville: Nelson Bibles, 1997), 1782.
This isn’t new information. I’ve been preaching it since I began parish ministry in 2003. I’m still not sure anyone believed me. Why? Because it requires a huge change in the way a person thinks. I don’t know of any other Christian preachers or scholars who believe it either. Was I wrong for believing what a few biblical scholars were brave enough to express in the small print of popular study Bibles (used by conservatives and liberals alike)?
No. I was not wrong. And I explain it in detail – why and how “eternal life” in the New Testament refers to a specific quality of life that can be lived in the world today. If you don’t believe it after reading it, I’ll give you your money back! The ebook version can be pre-ordered now at this link, and it will be automatically downloaded to you on October 31, 2017. Yes, I know that’s the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. But I was taught that the church is always supposed to be reforming itself and what better way to begin the next 500 years of the church’s reformation than on this special day?