I have mentioned this before to my atheist group of friends that Jesus was by some definitions an atheist himself. This would not be accepted by most believers, but if you read with an open mind the beginning of his only recorded sermon, called the Beatitudes, you will understand that it is a possibility. Read lines 7, 8, 9, 10 as a progression to a higher state. Lines 4 thru 7 describe a progression to a more developed state of being, but he doesn’t mention heaven. However, in line 8 we have people who have developed spiritually to the condition he calls pure in heart and they are rewarded by seeing God, but only as spectators. Line 9 – those who are peacemakers are called children of God; that is, the males could be called sons of God and the females daughters of God. What could possibly be higher than being a child of God? To be Gods themselves! And that is the zinger implication in line 10. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The clear implication is that children of God when they behave properly become the Lords of Heaven. What else could the unambiguous phrase mean? – Theirs is the kingdom of heaven!
Matthew 5 King James Version (KJV)
5 And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
2 And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
When the Beatitudes are read as suggested above, Gods and Heaven become a very different thing than visiting with an old dude sitting on a Golden Throne listening to harps and singing angels forever and listening to a hundred billion dead humans confessing their guilt and lamentations.
Being persecuted for righteousness’ sake is the highest state and it is being punished for doing the right things for other people, meaning humanity as a whole. That it is other people being helped is stated in the previous line where those doing that are called children of God because they are creating peace between contentious people. The higher thing beyond helping individual other people is helping the whole of humanity. That is the highest form of helping and thus the highest reward is granted to them and theirs is the kingdom of heaven. They have become … God.
This approach to Jesus is too practical and real-world for the otherworldly inclined.