Putting on the Mind of Christ: The Inner Work of Christian Spirituality by James Marion

A proper understanding of what Jesus meant by “the Kingdom of Heaven” is essential to Christian spirituality. The Kingdom of Heaven was the central theme of Jesus’ preaching ministry. By the “Kingdom of Heaven,” Jesus meant a particular level of human consciousness, not a place to which Christians are destined after death.

Unfortunately, most church officials and theologians today do not understand Jesus’ concept of the Kingdom. Using Mother Teresa and Jesus as examples, we can see that the two chief characteristics of the nondual consciousness of the Kingdom of Heaven are a lack of separation between God and humans and a lack of separation between human beings.

For any Christian serious about spirituality, a proper understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven is essential. In fact, the most critical spiritual mistake we Christians normally make is in failing to understand what Jesus meant by the phrases “the Kingdom of Heaven” and “the Kingdom of God.” This mistake is so basic because, once made, it can throw our spirituality off on the wrong track for the rest of our lives, with unfortunate consequences that we may realize fully only after our deaths.

Most Christians believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is a place and that, if we lead virtuous lives, we will enter this Kingdom of Heaven after we die. Many Christians today find encouragement for this belief in the dozens of books that have appeared over the last twenty years telling of the “near death experiences” (NDEs) of people who have almost died and then recovered. These documented experiences seem to clearly indicate that, after death, we will go to a place filled with love, light, peace, and joy, the place we Christians normally refer to as “heaven”…Where we Christians have made a costly mistake, in terms of our own spiritual growth, is in thinking that this after-death “heaven” is the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus dedicated virtually all of his preaching ministry to tell us about. It is not. Though Jesus acknowledged that an after-death heaven existed, Jesus devoted his preaching, not to that heaven, but to a Kingdom of Heaven that he said was here and now, near, “at hand” (Mark 1:15).

The principal message that Jesus brought to us was the Gospel or “Good News” of the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew, the author of the earliest Gospel, begins his account of Jesus’ public ministry with these words: “From that time Jesus began to preach his message, “Turn away from your mistaken thinking, because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’” (Matt. 4:17). By “at hand” Jesus meant “here,” “right in front of our faces,” “in our midst.” A few verses later Matthew writes, “Jesus went all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom, and healing people from every kind of disease and sickness” (Matt. 4:23). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus described the type of people who inhabit the Kingdom of Heaven, namely the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the pure in heart (Matt. 5:1-10). He told us that we should “seek first” the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 6:33), that is, that the realization of the Kingdom of Heaven should be the principal goal of every Christian’s life. And he promised his immediate disciples that some of them…