The Kingdom of Heaven
The Miracle of Damascus is not without a reason. All the miracles, the oil from the icon, the oil from Mirna, the stigmata, and the cures, are bells being rung by God so that we will listen to His Words. Before we look closer at His Words (the messages) and analyze what they are saying, we must first establish what is meant by
"THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN."
All the messages of Soufanieh pivot around this statement. If the Virgin Mary said nothing else except "The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth is the Church," it should be enough to bring about unity. In these words is a great lesson if we would only take them and relate them to the Bible. There were many reasons for divisions in the past, mostly political and national. Today these divisions maintain themselves and continue to divide because of misunderstandings as to what it means to be a follower of Christ. The great majority of Christians today have inherited their religion from
their ancestors, and have no concept of what is meant by "Church." When we establish what Christ means by "Kingdom of Heaven on Earth" or "Church," all the walls of division will come tumbling down. The concept of "Church" is what divides all Christians.
Some assert that you must be "born again in Christ" by accepting Him as your personal savior and that you then become His church. Some say an organized Church is not necessary. They say that each individual is the "Church." Some of these same people believe that the words "Kingdom of Heaven" mean that Christ and His Kingdom will come down out of the sky and stay with us for one thousand years. If this is true, then there was no reason for the apparitions of Damascus.
Others maintain that only those who hold fast to the teachings of the Apostles are true followers of Christ, but then who decides what are the true teachings of Christ?
History has proven that as a person develops a good argument for some position and gets a following, a new Church is born, further dividing the Kingdom of Christ into many positions on faith.
Within the Catholic Church today there is a heresy called "PLURALISM." It has been condemned by all the Popes of the Twentieth Century. Pluralism is the belief that all religions are okay in the eyes of God and that it doesn't matter what religion you belong to. If this were true, God would not see the need for the Miracle of Damascus. If "Pluralism" were true, God would not need to ask for unity.
None of these divisions would have ever happened if we had all known and understood the constant teachings of the Old Testament prophets, Christ, the Apostles, and the Doctrine of the Faith regarding the "Kingdom." To understand this "Kingdom" properly, I have decided to give a special chapter to these words, for once you understand the concept of "Kingdom," the entire Bible takes on new light.
Where do I start? To tell the truth, it amazes me that people (including myself for many years) don't understand the "Kingdom on Earth." I think before getting into the words of Scripture, we should start on a lighter note. To do this, I would like to borrow a little story from Jack McArdle (I hope he forgives me).
"Once a village blacksmith had a vision. An angel came to tell him that God was calling him home to the fullness of the Kingdom.
'I thank God for thinking of me; replied the blacksmith, 'but as you know, the season for sowing the crops is beginning, as I am the only blacksmith in these parts, who will help these poor people when a horse needs to be shod, or a plough needs to be fixed? I don't want to appear ungrateful, but do you think I could put off taking my place in the Kingdom until I have finished?'
"'I'll see what can be done,' said the angel, as he vanished. The angel returned a year or two later with the same message. This time, however, a farmer was seriously ill, and the blacksmith was trying to save his crop for him, so that his family wouldn't suffer. The angel was sent back to see what could be done. This happened again and again, and on each occasion the blacksmith just spread his hands in a gesture of resignation and compassion, and drew the angel's attention to where the suffering was, and where his help was needed.
"Eventually, the blacksmith felt very old and tired, and he prayed, 'Lord, if You would like to send Your angel again, I think I'd be happy to see him.'
"The angel appeared. 'If you still want to take me,' said the blacksmith, 'I am ready to take up my abode in the Lord's Kingdom.'
"The angel looked at the blacksmith in surprise and said, 'Where do you think you've been all these years.' "
I hope you enjoyed that. Now, let us get down to understanding this "Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.
The Jews expected an earthly Kingdom. Even the Apostles, in spite of His teachings, didn't understand this Kingdom until Pentecost. Today we have a new group who expect an earthly Kingdom coming down out of Heaven where Christ will live with them for a thousand years. Let us see how these ideas stack up to the words of Holy Writ. In order to establish what is meant by "Kingdom of Heaven;' we must first go to the Old Testament. It is from these passages we will see why the Jews expected a Messiah who would establish an earthly kingdom.
In Isaias 9:6-7 we find the prediction of the Kingdom.
"For a Child is Born to us, and a Son is given to us, and the government is upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace. His empire shall be multiplied, and there shall be no end of peace: He shall sit upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom; to establish it and strengthen it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth and forever."
They even knew where this child would be born.
"And thou, Bethlehem Ephrate, art a little one among the thousands of Juda; out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be the ruler in Israel; and His going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity," (Micheas 5:2).
There was no question in the Jews' mind that this was a kingdom, for even Daniel spoke of it. It is easy to see in these following words why they did not recognize Christ. They looked for an earthly king, and they thought of themselves as the saints of the Most High. Put yourselves in their shoes. Could you have imagined (without divine light) that God, Himself, would come down on this earth as a man?
"And He gave Him power, and glory, and a kingdom; and all peoples, tribes and tongues shall serve Him. His power is an everlasting power that shall not be taken away, and His kingdom that shall not be destroyed." (Daniel 7:14)
But the saints of the most high God shall take the kingdom; and they shall possess the kingdom for ever and ever," (Daniel 7:18) "and the saints obtained the kingdom."
"And that the kingdom, and power, and the greatness of the kingdom, under the whole Heaven, may be given to the people of the saints of the most High: whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all Kings shall serve Him, and shall obey Him." (Daniel 7:22).
The Kingdom in Christ's Words
The Jews didn't recognize Christ, because they looked for an earthly king, and it was a kingdom Christ came to establish. John, the Baptist prepared the way for Christ by announcing "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Christ started His preaching in Caphamaum by saying the same thing. "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." (Matt. 4:17).
In Matt. 8:11-12, Christ predicts many will come into the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, but the former children of the Kingdom (the Jews) will be cast out. He commissioned twelve Apostles and told them to preach the message, "the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." (Matt. 10:7).
In speaking of John, the Baptist, Christ says, "Amen I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen a greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the Kingdom of-Heaven is greater than he. But from the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven has been enduring violent assault, and the violent have been seizing it by force." (Matt. 11:11-12).
We could take this to mean "Heaven" in the sky, but we know from Christ's conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:13 that no one from earth had entered heaven. The gates of Heaven were still closed and would be until His death on the Cross. "And no one has ascended into Heaven except Him who has descended from Heaven; the Son of Man who is in Heaven."
If he only meant "Heaven in the Sky;' how could Heaven be assaulted? I'm sure even the twelve Apostles didn't understand. Christ said not all would understand. "To you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but to them it is not given." (Matt. 13:11). He began to speak in parables about the Kingdom of Heaven because, "seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, neither do they understand." (Matt. 13:13).
He goes on to say, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like. ..[good seeds and weeds growing together]" in Matt. 13:24-30. "The Kingdom of Heaven is like. ..[the growing of a mustard Seed]" in Matt. 13:31-35. So that there can be no mistake what He means, Christ explains that the Kingdom of Heaven is on this EARTH. "The field is the world; the good seed, the sons of the Kingdom; the weeds, the sons of the wicked one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil." (Matt. 13:38).
To further prove the Kingdom is on EARTH, "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His Kingdom all scandals and those who work iniquity. .:' (Matt. 13:41).
In the parable, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure. .." (Matt. 13:44-46). He lets them know that nothing is more important than entering the Kingdom. In "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a net cast into the sea," He explains that in the Kingdom will be the good and : the bad. (Matt. 13:47-49). In Matt. 13:52 Christ teaches that
the Kingdom will be new but draw from the old. Regarding something new, He predicts there will be virgins in His Kingdom. ". ..and there are eunuchs who have made themselves so for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven." (Matt. 19:12).
In Chapter 20 of Matt., he explains that no one is first or last in the Kingdom of Heaven, and many are called but few chosen. And something old: it would not do away with the old law, but complete it. His miracles show that the Messianic empire of God has already come (Matt. 12:28). As conditions for the entry into the Kingdom of God, Jesus demands justice (Matt. 5:20), fulfillment of the Will of His Father (Matt. 7:21), a childlike disposition (Matt. 18:3). He enjoins His hearers to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 6:33), threatens the Pharisees with exclusion from the Kingdom of God (Matt. 21:43,23:13), and proclaims the transfer of the Kingdom of God from the Jews to the Pagans. (Matt. 21:43).
Jesus does not understand the Kingdom of God purely eschatologically. It is a Kingdom which will be founded and which will continue while the world lasts, and which will be completed in the future world. Many of the parables spoken by Our Divine Lord, for example, of the sower of the seed, of the cockle in the wheat, of the net, of the leaven, of the mustard seed, depict the Kingdom of God IN THIS WORLD.
Even after He died and rose from the dead, He preached the Kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3). They still did not understand and asked "Lord, wilt You at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). Christ had told them that the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth was not to be a kingdom like David's, but a spiritual Kingdom of God, but they didn't understand. "The Kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21). It is a Kingdom of grace, of the Holy Spirit, of love. The old kingdom was a covenant God made with Abraham, a covenant of circumcision. The new Kingdom would have a new covenant, the body and blood of Christ. "This cup is the New Covenant in My blood. .." (Luke 23:20).
After the Apostles received the Body and Blood of Christ at the Last Supper He said, "And I appoint to you a Kingdom, even as My Father has appointed to Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My Kingdom; and you shall sit upon thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Luke 22:29-30).
The Kingdom In The Apostles' Words
The central idea of the teaching of Christ in the gospels was the "Kingdom of God." It is surprising then to see how comparatively rare the term occurs in the other books of the New Testament. The words "Kingdom of Heaven" or "Kingdom of God" occur thirteen times in Mark, thirteen in John, twenty-five in Matthew, and six in Luke. The reason for this is that Christ spoke primarily to the Jews who understood the meaning and the prophecy of the coming Kingdom. When speaking to the Apostles alone, Christ used the word "Church" instead of "Kingdom."
"And if he refuse to hear them, appeal to the Church, but if he refuse to hear even the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican:' (Matt. 13:17). "Upon this rock I will build My Church." After Pentecost this new terminology developed. ..Instead of "Kingdom" they used "ecclesia," which means "a gathering." The Apostles used this word to mean "a community of believers." The English translation of this word is "Church:'
This Church was referred to as a Brotherhood (1 Cor. 6:5, 1 John 3:10-17 and thirty times in Acts), as Sons of God (Rom. 9:26, 2 Cor. 6:16-18, Heb. 2:10), as a Household and Family (Acts 2:36, 7:42, Heb. 3:2-6, 1 Pet. 2:5), as the Bride of Christ (Eph. 5:21, 5:.24-27, 29, 31, Rev. 19:7, Rev. 22:17), as a Vineyard and Flock (Cor. 3:5-9, Rom. 11:16-24), as the Way, as the Ark, but most often as "the Body of Christ."The Body of Christ The Church is described as "one body in Christ" (Rom. 12:5) and as the "Body of Christ" (Eph. 1:23). The Church refers to those who are united in Him and through Him. They become one body in Him, and this oneness is described in many varying ways. They are baptized into His death (Rom. 6:1-5, 1 Cor. 12:13). They are crucified with Him to the self, to the world, to the law of sin and death (Rom. 6:6-15). They now glorify God in their bodies by carrying about the dying of Jesus, and by manifesting the life of Jesus in their mortal bodies (2 Cor. 4:10-12). This body binds men together in a Communion of life and righteousness, over which Christ rules (Rom. 5:15-21). In the new body, all are members one of another, and this requires the recognition of mutual dependence, of a shared suffering, and of the power of love to knit together all the parts of the body. (Rom. 12:5, 1 Cor. 12:14-26, 2 Cor. 4:7-12, Eph. 4:16, Phil. 3:10-21). In participating in baptism and in the Eucharist, the community participates in the dying body of Jesus and in His risen body.
A Universal Kingdom
This Kingdom of God, this Body of Christ is not just on earth.
The Body of Christ cannot be limited to the earth (the living members on earth), but it
must encompass all of creation. Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven (the Body of Christ)
extends itself from Earth, to Purgatory, to Heaven as a complete Kingdom of God. The word
"Kingdom" means ("reign or rule") reign of God.
Actually, it would be better to say that the Kingdom of Heaven expanded itself to include all those on earth who are predestined to be with Christ for all eternity. (Rev. 17:21). Every pattern of thought describing the Church shows its dependence on God in such a way as to accent the interdependence of all members of the community, past, present, and future. The cohesion is such as to encompass the whole existence of every person, and to indicate his relationship through Christ to the whole of mankind in history. There is a close interdependence between the visible community and those in Heaven. (Heb. 12:22, Rev. 3:12, 7:15, 12:12, 13:6, 21:3). The Church is described as the community of strangers and pilgrims traveling toward the Land of Promise (Heb. 10:26, 12:29, 1 Pet. 1:17, 2:11).
The Church is universal in time also, "all peoples of the earth-and this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world, for a testimony to all nations-Going therefore teach ye all nations- I will be with you until the end of time."A Visible Kingdom The first sign of a visible Church is a hierarchy. The teaching office demands obedience to the faith. Christ appointed seventy-two disciples and commissioned them to preach "The Kingdom of God is at hand for you." (Luke 10:9). "He who hears you, hears Me; and he who rejects you, rejects Me; and he who rejects Me, rejects Him who sent Me." (Luke 10:16) "and I appoint to you a kingdom, even as My Father has appointed to Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom; and you shall sit upon thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Luke 22:29). This was a spiritual Kingdom of Grace, but it had to have a visible side in order to dispense the Grace. To do this a hierarchy of authority was established with deacons. (Acts 6:6), and priests (Titus 1:3, 1 Tim. 5:17, Acts 14:22) and Bishops.
(Acts 20:28, Titus 1:7). These bishops were often referred to as ELDERS.
"Take heed to yourselves and to the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as bishops, to rule the Church of God, which He has purchased with His own blood." (Acts 20:28). It is this visible hierarchy that holds the Kingdom together in unity. St. Ignatius of Antioch in 80 A.D. warned his people to do nothing without the bishop. His sanction was an outward sign of God's approval.
"Abjure all factions, for they are the beginning of evils. Follow your bishop, every one of you, as obediently as Jesus Christ followed the Father. Obey your clergy too, as you would the Apostles; give your deacons the same reverence that you would to a command from God. Make sure that no step affecting the Church is ever taken by anyone without the bishop's sanction. The sole Eucharist you should consider valid is one that is celebrated by the bishop himself, or by some person authorized by him. Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be just as wherever Jesus Christ is present, we have the world-wide Church. Nor is it permissible to conduct baptisms or love-feasts without the bishop. On the other hand, whatever does have his sanction can be sure of God's approval."
As head of the Apostles, bishops, priests, and deacons, Christ appointed Peter.
"And I say to you, thou art Peter [rock], and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it, and I will give thee the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in Heaven." (Matt. 16:18-19).
And He gave them the power to forgive sins. .. "Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained." (John 20:23).
Christ is the door to the Kingdom of Heaven, and Peter is the gatekeeper (the Keys).
"Amen, amen, I say to you, he who enters not by the door into the sheepfold [the Kingdom] but climbs up another way is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is shepherd of the sheep. To this man the gatekeeper [Peter] opens and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them forth." (John 10:1-3).
"Obey your superiors and be subject to them, for they keep watch as having to render an account of your souls; so that they may do this with joy, and not with grief, for that would not be expedient for you." (Heb. 13:17).
"You have come to Mount Sion, [The Church] and to the city of the living God, [The Church] the heavenly Jerusalem, [The Church] and to the company of many thousands of angels, and to the Church of the firstborn who are enrolled in the heavens, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the just made perfect [All in the same family] and to Jesus, mediator of a new covenant." (Heb. 12:22-24) [Added comments].A Single Kingdom
Along with geographical expansion went an extension on the religious or theological plane. The gospel, preached in the first place to the Jews alone, was soon preached also to the Samaritans who were despised by the Jews. In this way the preaching of Christ began reestablishing the unity of the people of God. Afterward, the same gospel was preached to the proselytes and Gentiles, men whom the Jews hated even more than the Samaritans. Therefore, the dividing wall of Hostility, as Paul called it, was broken down. (Eph. 2:14).
Right from the beginning, there could have been two Churches, one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles, one for Peter and one for Paul. It made more sense at that time than ever again in history. But that wasn't the case. The Church remained one, and only one. Paul, who went alone into the world of the Gentiles, still consulted with the Apostles of Jerusalem:
"Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking also Titus along with me. And I went up in consequence of a revelation, and I conferred with them on the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but separately with the men of authority; lest perhaps 1 should be running, or had run in vain." (Gal. 2:1-2).
The Spirit is the instigator of this unity, where racial and social differences are abolished (Gal. 3:28). The believers are "all one in Christ Jesus," because they all "were baptized into Christ. ..There is one body and one Spirit" just as there is one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God. (Eph. 4:4). .
This unity is sealed by the bread of the Passover of which Jesus says "This is My Body" (Mark 14:22). The Church is a new beginning, a new creation, a new humanity, a new Heaven and a new Earth. A new Heaven because the death of Christ on the Cross opened the gate to Heaven; and a new Earth because Christ entered the world, and He would live in His Church until the end of time.
We confess this unity in the Nicene Creed, where we confess one faith, one belief, one God. Paul presents a picture of this unity by showing it as a house (1 Tim. 3:15) and again as a human body (Rom. 12:4). He expressly enjoins internal and outward unity;
"I beseech you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. ..that you be careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit; as you are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all." (Eph. 4:3-6).
John wrote the Apocalypse in 96 A.D. He started out by talking about the kingdom:
"To Him who has loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and made us to be a kingdom, and priests to God His Father. ..I John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and kingdom. .."
Then he goes on to speak to the seven bishops (angels) of the seven churches about the "things that are" (Apoc. 1:19). These seven churches are all in what is now Turkey. At the time of writing this, there were many more churches than this. The church of Jerusalem is not mentioned, nor Syria, nor Philippia, nor Rome, etc. It is probably meant for all bishops and their peoples for all times. Only one of these churches, the church of bishop Polycarp had no complaint. We should pay close attention to His words for and against these churches, especially regarding "Nicolaites and Jezebel" (Apoc. 2:6, 2:20).
Furthermore, we should realize that the Heavenly Jerusalem in Apoc. 3:12 and all of Apoc. 21 is the Church. This Heavenly Jerusalem extends itself from Heaven to earth as one complete Spiritual Kingdom of Christ, where all graces (shown as beautiful gems) are shared in a "Communion of Saints."
Christ promised "there shall be one fold and one shepherd." (John 10:16). And He prayed that "they may be one even as we are one." (John 17:11). So, why are there six hundred different faiths in Christ? Are there six hundred different Christs?
And so, we must think hard on these things. Christ ascended into Heaven, but His mission wasn't finished. He continues to remain with us until the end of the world. He remains invisibly in the Kingdom which He established, the Church.
The Church is the Body of Christ, His Mystical Body.
The Church is Christ.
You cannot claim to love Christ and not love His Church.
You cannot claim to believe in Christ and not believe in His Church.
Father Messias Coelho of Fatima said,
"God created the world to create the Church in order to have a family to love."
I believe that. When everyone believes that, we will have unity.
All baptized Christians are brothers in Christ to some extent, but we are not all united in Christ, the Word of God, unless we believe the Word. Unity requires unity of belief, unity of faith.