Who is the kingdom of heaven for?
In Luke 8, we see that the kingdom of heaven is for people who wouldn’t first consider themselves to be good candidates for citizenship, like the Roman centurion whose servant was sick. This centurion, a Gentile leader in the ruling state’s army, hears about Jesus and does not hesitate. His influence is so great that he sends Jewish elders to Jesus, asking him to come and heal his servant (v.3). This is not a man who is grasping at straws—this is a man who hears the reports about Jesus, a man who is not from his own culture or his own faith, and believes what he hears.
(He who has hears, let him hear.)
The centurion does not even consider himself worthy of having Jesus come into his house, or to go and meet him on the road (v.6-7). He sends messengers to say, “But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (v.7-8, NIV). Jesus commends him for his faith, saying he has not found such faith even in Israel (v.9), and when the messengers get home, the servant is healed (v.10).
The kingdom of heaven is for the downtrodden and heartbroken and weary, like the widow whose only son died (v.12). Jesus draws near to her and has compassion on her so keenly he feels it in the very depths of himself (“he had compassion on her” (v.13) = “esplanchnisthē”, a conjugation of the word “splagchnizomai”, which means “to be moved in the inward parts, i.e. to feel compassion”). The kingdom of heaven is for people who Jesus draws nears to and says, “Do not weep” (v.13). More than that, he brings her son back to life and gives her hope again (v.14-15).
The kingdom of heaven is for people awaiting miracles, and who can recognize that God has visited his people (v.16).
The kingdom of heaven is for those who doubt, even when they are born into a rich legacy of faith. John the Baptist has a crisis in Luke 8, sending messengers to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (v.19, ESV). The same John who lept in his mother’s womb when Mary, newly pregnant with Jesus, visited; the same John who declared, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, NIV) when Jesus came to be baptized. Jesus does not shame him for his doubt; he reassures him (Luke 8:22-23).
The kingdom of heaven is for the sinful woman at the end of Luke 8, who anoints Jesus’s feet with oil and her tears and wipes them with her hair as he reclines with a Pharisee. A woman who realizes all at once that she does not deserve what he is offering, yet knows that she is the one who is being offered it regardless of her past and what she may have done. In reward for her act of faith, Jesus forgives her sin (v.48, 50).
The kingdom of heaven is for all of these; more than that, the kingdom of heaven is for all. Jesus does not turn anyone away, and no one can be snatched from his hand.