Similar statement in Matthew
Jesus' statement in Luke is almost exactly the same as his statement in Matthew, with a slight difference:
“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24)We can see in the book of Matthew, Jesus is speaking of the "kingdom of heaven" - from the Greek, βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν. The quote from the Book of Luke uses the phrase, "kingdom of God" - from the Greek βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.
Is this a big deal? One would assume from this and other verses between the Gospels that seem to interchange the two - "kingdom of heaven" and "kingdom of God" - that they are virtually the same.
Surely, the Supreme Being is spiritual, and thus the spiritual realm - "heaven" - is His abode. If we assume the spiritual realm - "heaven" is that place where God is loved and revered, then it would be an adequate connection.
Is God only revered by those who dwell in the spiritual realm?
Furthermore, is the spiritual realm - "heaven" - the only place we can refer to as the "kingdom of God"?
The problem comes with the translation* and interpretation of the Greek word βασιλείαν to "kingdom."
One might say that "kingdom of God" would make sense because God would be considered a king of sorts and as such, He would have His kingdom. Does this mean that God is limited to being in His "kingdom?"
But what about "kingdom of heaven" as is used in Matthew? This is practically redundant. "Heaven" is considered by most to be the kingdom of God, right? And "heaven" is not a king of any sort. So how does "heaven" have a "kingdom."
It would be like saying, the "kingdom of the kingdom" or something. In other words, it simply doesn't make sense.
Furthermore, ecclesiastical sectarian teachers have assumed Jesus is speaking of the "kingdom of God" as a physical place. As if He has a designated place and doesn't rule outside of that place.
Certainly, "kingdom" is not an incorrect translation. But this is often misinterpreted, as it can convey that God does not have control over everything and every place. It can convey that there are places that God doesn't have control over.
The reality is that God does control everything and every place. Thus everywhere is the kingdom of God.
Let's use an example. Let's say there is a prison within the United States. If a person is in that prison, is he still in the U.S.? Certainly, a prisoner of such a prison is still within the United States.
In the same way, the physical world is within the kingdom of God. Everything here is owned and controlled by the Supreme Being.
But there is another similarity between a prison and the physical world. Within the physical world, we find it is common for people to reject the Supreme Being - in deed, word, or both.
In a prison, we find people who have rejected the laws of the U.S. in one form or another go to prison. And it is the goal of the prison system to rehabilitate those who break the laws - by encouraging them to respect these laws.
Yes, the physical world is like a prison:
We are currently residing within a rehabilitation center of sorts. Those who have been forced to take on a temporary physical body at some point rejected the Supreme Being. So God has set up this rehabilitation center of sorts with a design that encourages us to change. But it doesn't force us to change.
This is because there is freedom of choice. If the Supreme Being wanted to force us to worship Him then no one could reject Him. No one could claim to be an atheist. No one could blaspheme Him. But because He gave us the choice to worship Him or not - He created a place for those who decided not to.
The reason behind this is because the Supreme Being created us out of love. He loves us, and He loves to exchange love with us. Love requires freedom to love or not. If God didn't give us the choice to love Him, there would be no opportunity to love Him: Because love requires free will.
So what is Jesus really speaking of when he uses what was written in Greek as βασιλείαν and translated to "kingdom?"
Thayer's lexicon, for example, makes a case for "kingdom" being a rather poor translation for βασιλείαν. Part of its definition includes:
"royal power, kingship, dominion, rule - not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom"
Accepting protection from the King
So what Jesus is referring to is not a place: Jesus is speaking of accepting the dominion or rule of God over our lives. Jesus is speaking of accepting God as the king of one's life, so to speak. This is how Jesus could also say:
"The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:20-21 NKJV)
Thus, the acceptance of a king's control would come in the form of a person taking refuge or shelter in that king. A citizen or group of citizens would thus seek sanctuary within the reign of the king.
This is what Jesus is speaking of: He is speaking of taking refuge in God. He is speaking of taking shelter in God. He is speaking of accepting - or entering - the sanctuary of God. This is taught in the tradition of Moses and David:
"Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him." (Deut. 10:30)
In You, LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in Your righteousness. Turn Your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since You are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of Your Name lead and guide me. Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for You are my refuge. Into Your Hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, LORD, my faithful God. (Psalms 31:1-5)Being able to take refuge - holding fast to God - does require a form of entrance - but it is not like entering into a physical place. It is not like going into a ball game or a concert, where you have to pay for a ticket, and they take your ticket at the door.
Sanctuary of God
What Jesus is speaking of is entering the sanctuary of the Supreme Being where ever we might be. Taking shelter in God where ever we are living - and whether we are occupying a physical body or not. This is the sanctuary of God - the sanctuary of heaven.
And this is quite difficult for someone to do if we are currently taking refuge in the forms and names of the material world. If we are attached to our money, our house or car, our job or even our family - it is extremely hard to take shelter in the Supreme Being. Why?
Because being attached to the things and forms of this temporary physical world means we are taking shelter in these things. We are thinking that our money will give us shelter; that our houses will give us shelter; that our jobs or careers will give us shelter; or that our family will give us shelter.
But none of these things will give us shelter. All of these are transitory. All of it will crumble and decompose over time. Our bodies will get old and die. With it will go our money, and our house, and our job and our family. Even if we manage to hold on to these things until our time of death - they will disappear all at once when our bodies die.
When our body dies, we have to leave it behind
We will leave the body much as a person has to get out of a car that has broken down. But unlike leaving a car when it breaks down, when we leave our physical body at the time of death we cannot take anything with us. We have to leave everything behind. We can't take our money or our job or even our name or family with us. All of these things belong to the body that we are leaving behind at the time of death.
You see, each of us is spiritual in composition. We are not these physical bodies. Thus anything that is associated with them - including our family - is left behind at the time of death.
This means that taking shelter of anything material - even family - is futile. At the time of death, such a person who is attached to material things will have no shelter. No refuge. No protection. No sanctuary.
This is why Jesus is stating it is so difficult for a person whose focus is on money to take refuge in the Supreme Being. After all, wealth is relative. A person with $5 to his name might think that having $1,000 in the bank is wealthy, while a person with $1,000 will think having $100,000 is wealthy. But a person who feels they are rich or wealthy - well, that person is quite simply attached to their money. That person is identifying with whatever amount of money they might have.
Jesus is offering us eternal sanctuary, in the form of introducing us to the Supreme Being. He has asked his followers - and each of us - to come to know and love the Supreme Being. He is asking us to put our focus on the Supreme Being, and take refuge in Him:
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’" (Luke 10:27)
*Here is the translation of Jesus' statement according to the Gospels of Jesus:
“How hard it is for those who are materialistic to enter the sanctuary of God! It is easier for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle than for the materialistic person to enter the sanctuary of God." (Luke 18:24-25)