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?
Special note: The biblical concept of the Kingdom is one of the richest themes in Scripture, as these questions demonstrate. Because it is so rich in meaning—and so complex—I will be devoting the next several Bible Gems posts to this topic. Even so, we will be just scratching the surface, but hopefully shed some light that will help us all search the topic on our own with some sense of solid ground beneath our feet. Buckle up for a great journey into God’s Word!
First, some stats: The phrase “the kingdom of heaven” is unique to the Gospel of Matthew and appears 32 times. On the other hand, the phrase “the kingdom of God” appears 66 times and is spread throughout the four Gospels, Acts and four New Testament letters. In fact, “the kingdom of God” is used 32 times in the Gospel of Luke and 6 more times in Acts, the sequel to Luke’s Gospel. Combined, Luke-Acts accounts for more than half of its uses in the New Testament.
Next, let’s explore “the kingdom of heaven.”
Matt. 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
This is precisely the same terminology used by John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2). Like John before Him, Jesus declared that God was about to establish His kingdom upon the earth as promised through the prophets:
Dan. 2:44 In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.
In light of the impending arrival of this kingdom set up by the God of heaven, people everywhere should repent—switch their loyalty to the Lord, before it is too late. This is not some “spiritual” kingdom only, as taught by some, but the literal messianic kingdom to be established at the end of the age.
Jer. 23:5-6 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteous Savior.”
Each time Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven He has in view this messianic kingdom. The Beatitudes in Matthew (5:1-11), for example, describe the kind of people who will typify the citizens of that kingdom: “humble” (5:3), those healed of broken hearts (5:4), etc. These are the people of the Kingdom of Heaven who will “inherit the earth” (5:5)!
Jesus also uses “the kingdom of heaven” as a synonym for “the kingdom of God,” using the terms interchangeably:
Matt. 19:23-24 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.”
There is much more to this topic, which we will explore in upcoming Bible Gems.