A Place Where You Belong: Accessing Heaven through Allegiance to Jesus
Therefore, everyone who will acknowledge Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:32–33)
With these words, Jesus begins to wrap up the discourse of chapter 10 with a final “therefore.” “Because all these things are true,” he is saying, “this is how you should live and what you should remember.”
The chapter began when Jesus commissioned twelve apostles for the first mission of the church: preaching the good news of the kingdom in the towns and villages of Israel.
He gave them supernatural power to heal and deliver from demonic oppression but charged them to remain dependent on God and their human hosts for food and housing — in other words, he gave them heavenly power but asked them to remain voluntarily powerless in an earthly sense.
From there, he moved on to addressing the very real possibility of persecution during their mission.
Jesus was honest and clear in letting them know that their message would not be well received by everyone, and that they should expect to be opposed, rejected, persecuted, and even betrayed by family and friends for Jesus’s sake.
In and through all of this, he reminded them, the kingdom would be coming in a hidden, spiritual sense. The Son of Man would soon come into his position in heaven. They were always to remember that their enemies were limited — incredibly limited — in the damage they were able to do, while God’s judgment and power were final.
And within the context of that judgment and power, they were never to forget that they were known in detail and valued by God in heaven.
Finally, we reach the crux of the matter in verse 32. “Therefore,” because all these things are true, “everyone who will acknowledge Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven.”
Faith and Allegiance
Precisely what it means to be “saved by faith” (a phrase we get from Paul) is a question for some debate. But it’s clear that Jesus defined “faith” as something close to “allegiance.”
His promise here was that if his disciples would voluntarily identify themselves with him, he would voluntarily identify himself with them. If they would claim him as their Lord on earth, he would claim them as his people in heaven.
This was of such great importance that everything else — all human affections and allegiances; all tribal or national identity; all political or material cares — paled before it.
Facing persecution, rejection, and controversy even to the point of being executed, his people were not to concern themselves so much with explaining or justifying their work to people, but with making sure they were fully allied with God.
A Place Where You Belong
Having told his disciples that they risked the loss of everything they cared about on earth, Jesus promised them that he would claim them — would confess them — would acknowledge them in heaven.
He was calling them to willingly lose everything they owned or desired on earth, but in exchange, heaven would become the place where they belonged.
I think it’s important to recall that “heaven,” in a biblical sense, is not just a place we go where we die. (Although I think Christians do, in fact, go there when we die, at least temporarily.)
Rather, heaven is better understood as the spirit realm above and behind all other realms. It’s the realm of God, the realm where his authority is fully realized and his presence fully dwells.
Heaven is not distant from us. It’s all around us, and we access it through fellowship with God. That’s why Jesus could say, when he healed or delivered people from demonic oppression, that the kingdom of heaven had come near them.
It’s why the presence of God so often appeared in the Old Testament (and the New) with an atmospheric manifestation — a “cloud.” It’s why angels flicker in and out of every part of the biblical record. It’s why we can be simultaneously “seated with Christ in heavenly places” (Paul again, in Ephesians 2:6) and standing here with our feet firmly planted on the ground of earth.
To be known and confessed and acknowledged in heaven means that we have a place there, that we belong there. It means that we are being watched over and surrounded by heavenly beings. It means we have access to God and to all that belongs to him.
This is powerful. It’s eternal. It starts now. And it’s worth the loss of everything we could possess on earth.
The Jesus Connection
It needs to be underscored, I think, that Jesus claimed a key position for himself in regard to heaven that was completely unprecedented and very strange.
In the past, people had thought about citizenship in heaven or access to God in terms of keeping the law, making ritual sacrifices, and of course — importantly — being born into Israel, the people God had chosen.
Birthright was everything, with covenant law-keeping an expression of that birthright and a way of retaining it.
But Jesus claimed that he was the way to God and the connection to God. He claimed that in order to belong in heaven, you had to belong to him. You had to voluntarily associate yourself with him. And that was all you had to do.
Of course, voluntarily associating yourself with Jesus — “acknowledging him before men” — is not just about lip service. Remember, the disciples were being asked to do this in the face of the firing squad, so to speak.
This was about allegiance, but not allegiance to God in the old way. This was about allegiance to God through the man Jesus.
Things were changing. The king of heaven was about to be seated on his throne, and all that really mattered was that you knew him and he knew you.
Two thousand years later, the change has fully come. What really matters is that we know him and he knows us. That we acknowledge him, and that he acknowledges us. That when we go to pray, Jesus claims us as his own and says, “You belong here.”
And by belonging to heaven — like Jesus did — we bring heaven to earth.
This is Part 151 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
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