Heaven, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Kingdom of God

Some seem to think that the kingdom of heaven is the same as heaven, but it isn’t. The kingdom of heaven is actually another term for the kingdom of God. Some years ago, I read an author who said that the ‘kingdom of heaven’ and the ‘kingdom of God’ were two separate things. That really knocked me sideways because I had never heard that before.

I spent considerable time trying to find more information about those differences and could not, though later, when computers became available, I Googled it—and I wasn’t dreaming after all. This was taught by many earlier dispensational scholars, though most today no longer do so.

What I did discover years ago was that I was correct to begin with—the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are simply different ways of saying the same thing, and this is easy to demonstrate.

The Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew

Showing that the two phrases mean the same thing is easy because where Mark and Luke use the term ‘kingdom of God’, Matthew often writes ‘kingdom of heaven’ for the same story—No difference.

Here are some examples:

Mark 1:15 The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!
Matthew 3:2 Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

Mark 4:30 What shall we say the kingdom of God is like…? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth.
Matthew 13:31 The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…it is the smallest of all seeds.

Luke 6:20 Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Luke 7:28 Among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
Matthew 11:11 Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Mark 4:11 The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables.
Luke 8:10 The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables.
Matthew 13:11 The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.

The most common reason given for why Matthew uses ‘kingdom of heaven’ to replace ‘kingdom of God’ is that he was writing to a more Jewish-Christian audience, and Jewish people often felt uncomfortable using the divine name. However, Matthew does use the divine name elsewhere throughout his gospel. And he actually uses the term ‘kingdom of God’, itself, four times in quoting Jesus.

12:28: But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

21:31: Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.

21:43: Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.

And in chapter 19 Matthew even uses both at once: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

So I don’t know why Matthew uses ‘kingdom of heaven’ as he does, but it is no different from the ‘kingdom of God’.

kingdom8

What Is the Kingdom of God?

What do you think the kingdom of God is? Believers have a wide variety of thoughts on the kingdom of God.

  • Some think the kingdom of God is in heaven somewhere (wherever that is) and that we go there when we die.
  • Some in Jesus’ time thought the kingdom of God would be established by throwing off Roman domination and restoring Israel’s political independence.
  • Others think the kingdom of God is identical with Christianity or the Church (I don’t think so).
  • Still others, following dispensationalism, think of the kingdom of God as the millennial (1000-year) kingdom at the end of history mentioned in the book of Revelation.
  • There are also those who think the kingdom of God represents God’s sovereignty over the Universe.

There are many ideas about the kingdom of God. Take a moment to consider what you think the kingdom of God is and share it with us below if you like.

John the Baptist Announces the Kingdom of God

Matthew introduces John the Baptist in Chapter 3:

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

But what does John mean by that? He doesn’t say, but he does mention:

I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Of course this is Jesus, so Jesus must have something to do with the coming of the kingdom of God. John baptizes Jesus and in the next chapter John is imprisoned. Jesus’ response to John’s imprisonment is that:

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

So far, all we know about the kingdom is that it is near and seems to have something to do with Jesus. We will talk about this more next time.

Jesus without Baggage exists to assist and support those questioning beliefs they have been taught in fundamentalist, traditional evangelical, and other groups. If you know someone who might find Jesus without Baggage helpful, feel free to send them the introductory page: About Jesus without Baggage.

Articles in this series: The Kingdom of God
What Is Heaven and Where Is It?
Heaven, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Kingdom of God
How Do We Become Part of the Kingdom of God?
2 Parables of the Kingdom from Planting
The Kingdom of God is Like… (7 Short Kingdom Parables)
The Kingdom of God is Like Attending a Banquet

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26 Responses to Heaven, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Kingdom of God

  1. Carol Abernathy says:

    Pretty sure the pre-Copernican heaven/earth view has to be at work here. The Greek and Roman gods lived “up in the high places” too. This makes my brain itch.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I don’t think it has anything to do with the afterlife. I honestly think it is the heart and minds of human beings, and the resulting goodness and light that flow out of that. That means that a Christianity that isn’t reflecting grace, goodness, concern for the poor, love, etc. is a Christianity that hasn’t quite entered the kingdom of God. I have quite a bit more I could say about it.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. David says:

    I think the Kingdom of God is the realm where love rules. In heaven (wherever and whatever that is) everything is ruled by love, on earth so much is ruled by systems that man has created. The kingdom comes to earth when individuals operate in God’s love and not according to any system devised by man.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. tonycutty says:

    Something else worth thinking about is this (and I appreciate that htis may be pre-empting somethiing in your next post) whs that Jesus said that ‘If [I do this miracle], then the Kingdom of God has indeed come among you’. To me, this means that wherever Jesus is, the Kingdom is also; furthermore, wherever He is held as King, the Kingdom is also. Another way of looking at this is that from John the Baptist until now (in Jesus’s day) and even nowadays, the Kingdom of God is powerfully advancing. And so yes, the Kingdom is after this life, but it is also the power of that afterlife that breaks into the here and now in His Kingdom subjects – you and I. Eternal life isn’t just for the future; it’s for the now as well. And that’s the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit – and these are al available right now!

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Wow, Tony! I love every single word of this! I think we understand the kingdom the same way. And you are right that I plan to address ‘If [I do this miracle], then the Kingdom of God has indeed come among you’, but it will not be in this current kingdom series.

      Like

  5. newtonfinn says:

    Weird and perplexing, isn’t it? As Tim demonstrates in his thorough and thoughtful post, the Kingdom of God/Heaven is probably THE principal theme of Jesus–the express or implied subject of the vast majority of his sayings, parables, stories, actions, etc.–and yet here we are, 2000 years later, unsure about what that Kingdom means. Was Jesus that bad of a communicator, that poor of a teacher, that he couldn’t manage to get his principal point across? Or is there something else at work in our confusion? Might the Kingdom of God/Heaven be extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to FULLY grasp…or be something that, for some reason, we do not WANT to see…or be something that we have been conditioned NOT to see? Are there other factors behind our (or at least my) bewilderment? Thanks, Tim, for a most interesting and fruitful topic this week. As I follow what I hope is a fairly long and very lively discussion, I’ll continue to put in my two cents.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, you ask some extremely good questions! Why IS it that the kingdom, the principle theme of Jesus, is so difficult to grasp? I am not sure. But I think one factor is that so many identify the kingdom with the church, Christianity, or Christendom–and I don’t think it is.

      If the organized church was ever identical to the kingdom of God, I think it ceased to be identical at least as far back as when Constantine compromised the church and began to fuse it with the kingdom of Caesar. And when we look at the church today it is often difficult to see the kingdom in it in many places.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree the kingdom is not the church or Christianity. Jesus taught His disciples, who taught us to pray thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. He took this kingdom from Jewish leaders who rejected Him and stated that He would give it to those bearing its fruit. The kingdom has not yet come on earth, so it is yet future, and it represents the perfection of heaven on earth. The second coming will see its implimentation. It will be given to the children of God.
        He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
        John 1:11-13 -NASB

        Liked by 2 people

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Jerry, I think you are right that the kingdom has not come FULLY to earth. But I do think the kingdom already has a presence and is expanding as believers live according to kingdom principles and share the good news with others. It will be a great day when the kingdom on earth comes to completion!

          Liked by 1 person

  6. ancadudar says:

    Tim,
    This is such an insightful article!
    “Mark 4:11 The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables.”

    I found some interesting writings where a group of people brought some accusations against Jesus, and the gospels were being questioned and needed clarifying. The person who clarified the situation said that the gospels were only put together for the common person and that the clergy know this well, but that in reality, Jesus taught esoteric secrets to his followers that goes much deeper and some of the things ascribed to Jesus may not have actually happened, that the gospels and parables only contain the seeds of Jesus teaching for the common person to understand. No wonder the gospels say so many times that it is the Holy Spirit who will lead you into all truth, not the Bible. Basically, I think that what happened is that the second generation of Jesus followers got together and put the gospels together in a way that best captures the persona and teachings of Jesus without everything being exact or word for word of what He said and did. I checked the source of this document and it does not come from the Gnostics. I can email you the link to the document if you like?

    I think when Jesus talked about the Kingdom of Heaven or God, that it is here and now. I think it is revealed on earth everytime we do the things He said in His parables. I think the Kingdome of Heaven is revealed through love.

    Like

  7. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    “I think when Jesus talked about the Kingdom of Heaven or God, that it is here and now. I think it is revealed on earth everytime we do the things He said in His parables. I think the Kingdom of Heaven is revealed through love.”

    Anca, I agree. I think the kingdom is here and now but not yet in its fullness. Your story of Jesus’ esoteric teachings is interesting; yes, please send me the link.

    Like

  8. I often talk about the kingdom of God and use the language in terms of what Revelation 21 is about and how that happens and is unfolding in our midst and we are invited to participate. You can point to Isaiah 55 also, or anywhere there is a picture painted in Scripture of community with God and one another, where there is restoration. Where we live out what Jesus taught. When the Kingdom of God comes near, it causes change to happen – to move us closer to the ideal community. The ideal community would be communion with God. You could talk about kenosis in this regard – the perfect union of God with creation. The kingdom of God is the Trinity – the ideal and perfect relationship and community. I see the Kingdom of God coming near in our homeless ministry at the truck stop. I see it in the Miracle Mile when people who live in motels and pay ridiculous weekly fees for a crappy room are set free from the cycle of poverty that holds them captive. I see the Kingdom of God coming near when we share a meal at Dennys with our homeless friends at a long table. It is an image of health, relationship, communion, laughter, sharing, caring, etc. It is a foretaste of the kingdom. Enough to keep me going and working and doing ministry.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Pingback: What Is Heaven and Where Is It? | Jesus Without Baggage

  10. Pingback: How Do We Become Part of the Kingdom of God? | Jesus Without Baggage

  11. I have seen these two kingdoms as one, and that they exist wherever and whenever there is significant influence of God, whether directly from the Godhead or indirectly through people who live after God’s loving example…

    …In particular, I think it pertaines to our time here AND to eternity. We are actually in eternity, and and we follow the kingdom and it follows us from the present forward. It is possible that we have misunderstood what eternity means. At the very least, eternity touches NOW…intimately, and possibly exclusively NOW and all the instances of NOW that have ever and will ever occur. Will we be consciously “present” at all times in eternity future? I do not know, yet the Kingdom of Heaven is *present* to be experienced *NOW*.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Brettany, I love this! “I have seen these two kingdoms as one, and that they exist wherever and whenever there is significant influence of God.” I agree!

      Like

  12. michaeleeast says:

    Tim, I have also heard that Matthew was loath to use the name of God. I have noted your thoughts about that. To me the Kingdom of God is those who receive and understand Jesus message of love and forgiveness from God and thus form a real relationship with the Living God. Those who are touched by the Spirit of God – the Ho;y Spirit – and thus become Children of God.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: 2 Parables of the Kingdom from Planting | Jesus Without Baggage

  14. Pingback: The Kingdom of God is Like… (7 Short Kingdom Parables) | Jesus Without Baggage

  15. Pingback: The Kingdom of God is Like Attending a Banquet | Jesus Without Baggage

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