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’.
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