“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10
The King and his kingdom
The persecuted, Jesus says, are blessed, not because they’re persecuted, but because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them and they belong to it. What is this kingdom, though? Jesus is about to teach his disciples to pray, and in particular to pray “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). After his death and resurrection he declares to them that all authority in heaven and on earth is now given to him. Throughout the Gospels the kingdom of heaven is understood to be the kingdom of God, the domain and saving rule of God. It is Jesus, then, who is the King over this Kingdom, ruling over all that belongs to God.
But where is the kingdom of heaven and of God? In our modern-day western culture, when we talk about heaven we mean some place “up there” in the sky. But Jesus is proclaiming something beyond that, yet closer than we might imagine. In him the kingdom of God and heaven has come and is coming to earth. One day heaven and earth will unite in such a way that a new heaven and new earth will have come into existence. That new world in its entirety will be the place, the domain, of God’s kingdom. It will be full of the glory of God.
How will this happen? When a man named Nathanael hears from his friend, Philip, that they have found the Messiah, he doubts it but goes to see for himself. When Jesus sees Nathanael coming, he calls him by name and tells him he saw him under a fig tree. Nathanael moves from quickly dismissing Jesus to quickly believing in him simply because of this. But Jesus says to Nathanael, “’You will see greater things than these.‘ And he said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’” (John 1:50-51)
Humanity won’t usher in a new world
Centuries before the patriarch Jacob saw in a dream a ladder coming down from heaven with God standing above it and his angels ascending and descending from heaven to earth (Genesis 28:13-17). Jacob awoke and knew God’s presence was in that place. But now Jesus is claiming that in him, the Son of Man and Son of God, God himself has come to earth. This isn’t a dream. All things are being united in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:20). Jesus is how God is making all things new (Revelation 21:5).
Humanity longs and seeks for a perfect world. All our technological aspirations and hopes are aimed at eradicating pain and suffering and evil. But the reality is that all our technological progress hasn’t stemmed that tide. If anything, the tide has risen. Humanity, for all the good it’s done and can do, will never usher in a new world or a new humanity. It can’t. But Jesus can, and one day he will.
Revelation 21:3-4 points us forward to that happening. We hear about and see a world that is without any mourning or crying or pain or loss. A world where those things will not only be eradicated forever, but will be remembered no more. And so our hearts are stirred and awakened within us: who doesn’t want to live in that kind of world! We all do.
But there’s “a catch”. To live there we must love the king and everything he loves—everything he stands for, commands, desires, creates.
Eternity is loving forever what you love now
In Matthew 22 Jesus tells the parable of a king who prepares a wedding feast for his son. All those exclusively invited, though, refuse to come. Again the King extends his invitation and again he is refused. So the king sends his servants and broadens his invitation and gathers enough people to fill the wedding hall. “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.” (verse 11-12)
This is what being in the new heaven and new earth would be like for anyone who doesn’t love the king and everything he loves. He would be out of place. He wouldn’t belong there.
The coming new heaven and earth will be both the culmination of all that Jesus began and the continuation of all that he has begun. Because of his saving work on the cross, it will be a world of perfect peace, joy, righteousness, holiness, kindness, love, goodness—everything that God is and is doing now in his kingdom as it comes to earth.
Eternity will be loving forever what you love now.
If right now I don’t love walking in righteousness or holiness, if I don’t love walking in humility and patience, if I don’t love repenting of my sins and asking for forgiveness, if I don’t love serving and giving sacrificially,—not love as in “like,” but love as in desiring, delighting, and freely choosing—then what makes me think I will love this kind of life then?
However, if Jesus has saved me, then this means he has given me a new heart with new desires, delights, motives, intentions, thoughts, actions, hopes, and plans. To follow him into the new heaven and new earth would be the greatest blessing and happiness of my life.