These institutions have promoted the concept that the kingdom of God - also "kingdom of heaven" - is a place up in the clouds where a bunch of old people in white robes are sitting around talking or playing the harp while God - an even older guy with a long white beard - is sort of floating over them. These images have been illustrated by the various works of Michelangelo within the Sistine Chapel along with the various other imagery displayed and distributed by ecclesiastical Christian institutions.
This image of the kingdom of God promoted by ecclesiastical Christian institutions is matched with another - one of God sitting all day on a big throne with Jesus sitting next to Him - just watching and judging. As if God has nothing to do all day than to sit and judge.
These images of the kingdom of God are simply speculative interpretations promoted by those who have no entrance into the real kingdom of God.
And this fact is illustrated by the seeming paradox of Jesus' statement here, because both of these impressions define the kingdom of God as a place that can only arrived at after dying. Meanwhile, Jesus is clearly stating that some of those around him - meaning some of his students - "will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
Even though they see it as a place gone after death, the speculative interpretations of the kingdom of God put out by ecclesiastical institutions curiously envision heaven is occupied by our same physical bodies we have now - typically illustrated as our elderly physical bodies. As if the body of the old man or woman dies just gets lifted up into the clouds. Could this be true?
First of all, we now have airplanes and spaceships that can travel up over the clouds, and guess what? There are no harp-playing, long-white-bearded people up there sitting on the clouds.
Furthermore, immediately following the death of the physical body, the body begins to decompose, and within a short time, becomes eaten by worms and disintegrates back into the soil.
So what do we make of Jesus' statement? Obviously the kingdom of God is not exclusively a place where people go after death.
The first reality to understand is that we are not these physical bodies. These physical bodies are vehicles for each of us - the spirit-person who dwells within. Just as a person accesses the environment of space with a spaceship - and more directly with a spacesuit - the physical body gives the spirit-person (each of us) access to the environment of the physical dimension.
But why are we given the ability to access the physical dimension through these temporary physical bodies?
Because we are trying to escape the Supreme Being. We are trying to achieve independence from God. We are trying to enjoy ourselves separate from our relationship with the Supreme Being.
This leads us to the second reality we must understand in order to understand Jesus' statement: Everything belongs to the Supreme Being and thus every location lies within the kingdom of God.
In more simple terms, God owns everything. And He is present - within His various expansions - everywhere.
But those of us within these physical bodies living within the physical dimension are trying to escape that reality. We don't want to accept that someone besides us is the center of the universe. We don't want to accept that someone besides us is more important.
This is because we want to enjoy ourselves. We want to be the center of attention. We want to have everyone love us. We want to have the admiration of others.
This is why most of us strive for fame in one respect or another. Practically everyone who doesn't have it is seeking to be famous - even if it is just for that metaphoric 15 minutes of fame. (While ironically, those who are famous constantly strive to maintain their privacy.)
And even when we are not working on our larger plan to be famous or wealthy, we are trying to get everyone around us to like us. We are looking for others' acceptance.
This is the reason that so many of us will follow "the crowd" - whether it means watching football on Sundays, joining a certain church, celebrating certain holidays or simply doing what is expected by society. Each of these tasks take us to that place where we feel that we are accepted by others. And this helps us achieve our feeling of independence from God.
Thinking that we can become happy by having others' approval and being appreciated by others - and even being famous - is the sign of a sad, empty inner person: The reality that while we think we are independent from God, we are in fact, needing love that only the Supreme Being can give - an unconditional, unlimited form of love.
You see, the love that we think we receive from others - as others' seemingly accept us, approve us or applaud us - is not really love. Those people who are applauding us or accepting us are doing so only to be accepted themselves. They only want to applaud those people that others are applauding - so that others will accept them. They do not really love us or applaud us sincerely. They just want their own approval from others. In actuality, most of us are simply envious of others' achievements.
We see similar traits among herds of animals or flocks of birds. They will look around, and as soon as others begin to do something, they will do the same thing. Now if one of the herd does something and others follow, then the entire herd will follow. But if one of the herd does something that no one else follows, then the herd does not follow that bird.
This herd-like mentality is not exclusive to animals because all of these physical bodies - animals, fish, birds, and humans - are all vehicles for spirit-persons to inhabit the physical realm. In other words, we are all spirit-persons, inhabiting different forms of life. And that is why we find that dogs, cats, horses and even undomesticated animals all seek love. They all want to be petted and given attention. Within the physical body of that animal is the same kind of spirit-person we are: It is just that their consciousness - their desire for knowledge - has not yet evolved as those spirit-persons in human forms have.
The bottom line is that each spirit-person within the physical dimension - in whatever physical body - is seeking independence from the Supreme Being. We are seeking our own enjoyment, away from our original relationship with the Supreme Being. We are seeking to be away from God.
The Supreme Being created each living being - each of us - for the purpose of exchanging a unique loving relationship with. This means we are essentially created to be God's playmates. But in order for us to truly be able to love God - as God wants to enjoy loving relationships - we must have the freedom not to love God. After all, how can we truly love if we have no choice?
Those of us dwelling within the physical realm have chosen not to love God. We chose to be self-centered instead of God-centered. So the Supreme Being created the physical realm to house those who chose not to love Him. He created this virtual environment in order to allow those who wanted their freedom from God to have their virtual freedom from Him.
We say "virtual" because we can never be truly free of God. We are each indelibly connected to God, and God is the Supreme Being so He owns everything. He has access to everywhere - even this physical world we are trying to enjoy is owned and controlled by the Supreme Being.
Again, this means that strictly speaking, everywhere is within the kingdom of God.
But for the purposes of understanding the clarity of the situation, when a person is trying to ignore God's existence, and is thinking they are the center of the universe, their consciousness is not within the kingdom of God. They might be inside the kingdom of God even as they are within the physical plane, but their consciousness is in the virtual reality that they are the center of the universe.
We might compare this to a boy who is playing a video game on his computer. The boy might be sitting in the house of his mother and father, but his consciousness is somewhere else. It is captured within the virtual reality of the video game. While he is playing the game, he thinks he is his video game avatar. And that video game avatar is completely removed from the boy's relationship with mom and dad and their house. Even if mom and dad bought the video game software, while the boy is playing the video game, he is completely forgetting this relationship with his parents.
What this all means is that should a person have a change of heart - a change of consciousness - and accept the supremacy and ownership of the Supreme Being, and should a person accept their real position as being one of God's servants and loving playmates, then that person - even if they are still within their physical body - can be in the consciousness of the kingdom of God.
That person will be accepting their role as one of being pleasing to God. They will understand that the Supreme Being loves them and wants them to return to their loving service relationship with Him.
In such a state of mind, this person "will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."
They will, in fact, already be in the kingdom of God and they have always been there. It is just that they didn't accept that this universe - and every universe - is part of God's kingdom. They didn't "see" (better "perceive") this as God's kingdom until they were guided by Jesus - until they heard and understood the teachings of Jesus.
This understanding also explains the meaning of some other verses, which captured the essence of the teachings of John the Baptist, Jesus, and Jesus' students:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matt. 3:2)
From that time on [after John's imprisonment] Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matt. 4:17)
[Jesus told his disciples] "As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.'" (Matt. 10:7)
The word "near" (or "at hand" in the KJV) has been misinterpreted by ecclesiastical Christian teachers to mean some end of times, apocalypse scenario. Yet there was no end of times scenario to any of those who heard these teachings. Neither did an end of times scenario exist for the billions of people that followed for the next 2,000 years. Rather, the word "near" (or "at hand") - from the Greek word ἐγγίζω (eggizō) - quite simply means what it says: Near. Nearby. Close.
So how is the "kingdom of heaven" "near"? Because we are each already within the kingdom of heaven - the kingdom of God - now, but we do not realize it. We do not realize that God is right here with us because we are ignoring Him. We do not realize that our happiness is linked to our relationship with God and if we do not embrace that relationship we are empty inside - even if surrounded by many people applauding us.
And within the real kingdom of God - that place Jesus is speaking of here - the Supreme Being is not an old guy with a white beard just sitting on a throne all day judging people or floating over them. He is ever-youthful, all-attractive, fun-loving and ever-active. He is always enjoying playing with His loving playmates within so many unique loving relationships - playing games, having ceremonies, exchanging loving feelings in so many different pastimes.
Consider for a minute the variety of games and pastimes that a child might have. One minute the child is playing cops and robbers with friends and the next minute he is playing kickball, darts, Marco Polo and so many other games. One day the child will be superman and the next day he'll be the lone ranger.
What - can a child play all these games but God cannot? A child can have fun with his friends and the Supreme Being has to sit on the throne watching and judging? As if the Supreme Being has arthritis or something?
Don't be ridiculous.
The reason why children want to play all the time is because this is our natural state. This is our natural consciousness. We are each playmates - our spirit-person's identity is one of playmate - playmate of the Supreme Being. And the kingdom of God - the spiritual realm - is a place of loving fun and games. A place of everlasting love and joy - and fun. And God is the biggest Funster of them all.
But all of this fun is embedded within our loving service connection with God, and it has nothing to do with the physical bodies we are wearing at the moment and the self-centeredness of this world. It is not like some of the games of physical children where each is competing for the position of top-dog, sometimes willing to cheat or otherwise play unfair.
The games of the spiritual realm are all immersed in love - unfathomable by the physical mind. Love for the Supreme Being and love for the Supreme Being's other playmates is our spiritual essence - that essence that is currently covered up by our false identification with this physical body and our chase for self-centered and physical-family-centered enjoyment.
This unfathomable loving fun of the spiritual realm is outside the realm of the physical senses and the physical mind. Yet it is real, even if our spiritual eyes are not opened to see it.
Jesus was trying to open his students' spiritual eyes, and prepare his students to return to their innate loving relationships with the Supreme Being. And with the verse above he was telling them they could return to those loving relationships - expressed within their loving service to God - even while they were still within their temporary physical bodies in the physical world. This is also illustrated by Jesus' most important teaching:
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)
This is republished from The Real Teachings of Jesus.