The Kingdom of Heaven – Maljut haShamaim

The term “the Kingdom of Heaven” is famous in Christianity since it is used by Yeshua throughout his ministry – from exhorting people to “become little children” in order to enter it (Mt 18:3); comparing it to a treasure hidden in a field (Mt 13:44) or a mustard seed (Mt 13:31); to even talking about how the halakhic rules would be within the Kingdom (Mt 22:29).

What many people do not know is that this term, “Malchut haShamaim” (the kingdom of heaven), and the term “Malchut Elohim” (the kingdom of God; sometimes “Malchut Shaddai”), were terms widely used in the Jewish temporal context in which Yeshua lived.

The Roman Empire had complete sovereignty over the land of Israel and economically oppressed the people through tribute (i.e., taxes) to the emperor. Dissident Jews who decided to refuse or even question those authoritarian imperialist regulations were crushed by the Roman military arm, and their bodies were displayed on crucifixes as an example for others so that everyone would think twice before rebelling or questioning their authority. The Zealots were a dissident group, mentioned in the New Testament, who fought against the Roman authorities, hoping to regain Jewish autonomy, just as the Maccabees fought against the Greeks a couple of centuries before.

A thought, rooted in biblical doctrine, became popular during that time: just as there are kingdoms and empires in this world which are born, expand, and ultimately pass away, there is also in contrast a kingdom that is eternal –  the kingdom of God.

A very clear picture of this appears in the interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream given by Daniel in the second chapter of his book: In the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, and this kingdom will not be left to another people. It will crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end but will itself endure forever.

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