Question: Is there a difference between the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God? Also, what does it mean that "the kingdom of heaven is near," "theirs is the kingdom of heaven," "Your kingdom come. . . on earth as it is in heaven," "seek first His kingdom," etc. Are all of these kingdoms the same? Is it a state of mind? An actual place?
The second part of this series on the Kingdom of Heaven focuses on what is meant by the statement, “the kingdom of heaven is near" Matt. 3:2; 4:17;10:7). As we saw in the previous post, both John the Baptist and Jesus implored people to repent now, while there is still time, because “the kingdom of heaven is near.” Or to put it in reverse, “the kingdom of heaven is near,” so you had better repent!
The phrase “is near” means something much deeper than “is coming,” or “is almost here.” In fact, the English language does not even have the same verb tense used in the Greek New Testament (Perfect Active Indicative) to translate the verb eggike appropriately. The Greek perfect tense points to the present state of affairs as the result of some past action. For example, if someone should ask, “Where is the bag of chips I gave you?” and I reply, “I have eaten them,” that person understands the chips are now gone based upon the fact that I had eaten them earlier.
That’s the idea behind the perfect tense translated as “the kingdom of heaven is near.” It essentially means that the kingdom is near now! It is already near. That is a present reality based upon some event that brought it about. What is that event? It is the arrival of the King Himself to planet earth, Jesus the Lord of heaven, who alone gives us access to heaven:
Matt. 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
Jesus, the King of heaven, has brought the kingdom of heaven to earth. It is “near” because He is here!
Literally, the phrase Jesus uses is “the kingdom of (or from) the heavens.” It is a descriptive term, telling us where this kingdom comes from. As Jesus would later tell Pontius Pilot, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36). This kingdom from outside our world that has come to this earth through its emissary and king, Jesus, is characterized by “righteousness.” And only righteous citizens of earth are qualified to becomes citizens of the kingdom from heaven:
Matt. 5:20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Because this is true, the kingdom of heaven is already here, but it’s only near in the sense that heaven is available to mankind for entry—under one specific condition:
Rom. 3:21-22 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
Stay tuned! Next week we will explore more facets of this wonderful theme, the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God.