Is heaven a reward?

[Jesus] also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

Mark 4:30-32 

Dear members and friends, 

Growing up at a Presbyterian church in Korea, the church taught me to believe that the kingdom of God or heaven is a kind of reward for being a faithful servant. More precisely, the kingdom of God would be the place that I would enter after the final judgment, which would happen after the second coming of Jesus Christ. However, as I was reading the gospels and focusing on the teachings of Jesus about the kingdom of God, I became confused. If I were reading them correctly, Jesus teaches about heaven not as a place to go after judgment, but rather as a way of living or being as a human. In other words, we should not be concerned with the final reward we receive after our life on earth, but the people near us, and our actions toward them right here and right now. Indeed, there is a significant difference between what people teach and what Jesus teaches in Gospels. 

In Mark 4, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed. Regardless of whether the mustard seed is really the smallest seed on earth, the point that Jesus is making is about how the kingdom of God could be embodied within us and our own communities. The biblical use of a seed often has to do with a seed’s significance in its potential to grow to be a tree. From the Sower’s Parable, we understand that what Jesus means by a seed is truth. These days the truth can be anything and everything. However, what Jesus means by truth is a way through which humans could cultivate themselves to unite with God. In other words, having truth means much more than just knowing, acknowledging, or even believing what one is certain to be true and real. Thus, truth by Jesus means not any certainty of human origin, but spiritual awareness and certainty from Divine. 

My brothers and sisters in God, let us not seek the kingdom of heaven as a distant time or place, but rather focus on the life that is happening right now and right here. May the truth from Divine be planted within you and grow to be a tree of life within you.

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee