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 first two posts on this subject focused on the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven,” used almost exclusively by Jesus in the book of Matthew. In contrast to this, the phrase, “the kingdom of God” occurs 66 times in the New Testament. Most of these are in the Gospels (52X), then Acts (6X), 1 Corinthians (4X), followed by Romans, Galatians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians (1X each). Of all of these, the term is found most frequently in the Gospel of Mark and used almost exclusively by Jesus.
But here is where things get really interesting. Just as Jesus taught that “the kingdom of heaven” has already come near (i.e., because of Jesus’ presence as heaven’s royal representative on earth), He also taught exactly the same way about “the kingdom of God”:
Mark 9:1 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
“The kingdom of God” means the kingdom from God, just as “the kingdom of heaven” means the kingdom from heaven. The fact is, God, who is Spirit (Jn. 4:24), has established a location in His creation from which He governs all that exists:
Ps. 2:4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
God’s throne “in heaven” is distinct from “the heavens” we commonly refer to as intergalactic space:
Ps. 8:1 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.
“The kingdom of God,” then, means the authority of (or “from”) God as the Supreme Ruler of creation whose throne is in heaven, “beyond” the physical and spatial universe. Consequently, when Jesus told the three disciples they would “see that the kingdom of God has come with power” (Mk. 9:1), He was referring to the demonstration of God’s power and authority they were about to witness on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mk. 9:2-8).
But “the kingdom of God” refers to more than simply His authority and power. It also refers to a community, a unique culture that perfectly reflects God’s nature, God’s values and God’s character. It is God’s kingdom; and those who inhabit His kingdom now, and those who will enter His kingdom in the future must likewise reflect His nature, values and character. Sadly, not everyone will enter in:
Luke 13:28-29 There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.
For this reason, Jesus frequently gave examples from life and from nature on how to “enter the kingdom of God / kingdom of heaven”:
Mark 4:26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.”
Note: Be sure to check out next week’s final post on this subject !