Because “the kingdom of heaven” is such a prominent subject in the parables of Jesus (as well as His overall preaching)… I thought it might serve a good purpose as we study the parables to take a careful look at what “the kingdom of heaven” means: Let’s begin our effort to define “the kingdom of heaven” by comparing it with “the kingdom of God”…
Comparing THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN and THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS THERE A DIFFERENCE? 1. Some try to make a distinction (e.g., Scofield Reference Bible) 2. But a quick comparison of the gospels indicate that the terms refer to the same thing a. Cf. Mt 4:17 with Mk 1:14-15
17* From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
14 Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God,
15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” b. Cf. Mt 5:3 with Lk 6:20
3* ¶ “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
20* ¶ And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. c. Cf. Mt 13:31 with Mk 4:30-31
31* He presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field;
30* And He said, “How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? 31 “It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, So the question becomes: WHY THE DIFFERENT EXPRESSIONS? We find that Matthew used the expression “kingdom of heaven” almost exclusively, while the other gospel writers used the phrase “kingdom of God” It may be that since Matthew wrote his gospel to the Jews, he chose to used the phrase “kingdom of heaven”… a. Because of the Jews’ reluctance to use the name of God (out of reverence) b. Because of the Jews’ misconception of the coming kingdom 1) Many anticipated a physical kingdom 2) The expression “heaven” (literally, “heavens”) would emphasize a spiritual kingdom So our first observation is that any effort to distinguish between the “kingdom of heaven” and the “kingdom of God” is really without warrant. What Jesus meant when He spoke of the “kingdom of heaven”… INVOLVES FOUR INTERRELATED CONCEPTS 1) THE REIGN OF GOD… 1. The term “kingdom” as used by the Jews often stressed the abstract idea of “reign” or “dominion” not some geographical area surrounded by physical boundaries a. Possibly used this way by Jesus in Lk 17:21 b. It is used this way by Jesus in Mt 6:1
10* ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Therefore, the “kingdom of heaven” (or “kingdom of God”) is wherever the REIGN or DOMINION of God (who is in heaven) is manifested In one sense, the kingdom of God has always existed – cf. Psa. 103:19
19 ¶ The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all. But in a special way was the rule or reign of God was to be manifested with the coming of Christ 1) As foretold in the time of Daniel (ca. 500 B.C.)
44 “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. 45 “Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.” 2) As proclaimed by John the Baptist – Mt 3:1-3
3:1* ¶ Now in those days John the Baptist *came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2* “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3* For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, “THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT!’” 3) As preached by Jesus – Mt 4:17; Mk 1:14-15
17* From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3. Indeed, it is in the Person of Jesus Christ that the “reign of God” is being expressly manifest today – cf. 1 Cor. 15:23-26; Ep 1:20-22; 1 Pe 3:22; Re 1:5
1 Cor. 15:23-26
23* But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25* For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26* The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 2) THIS KINGDOM IS SPIRITUAL IN NATURE.. The kingdom (or reign of God) would not be found in the form of a physical kingdom – Jn 18:36
36* Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” It would manifest itself in spiritual ways –
17* for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 3) This Kingdom is VISIBLY MANIFESTED TODAY IN THE LORD’S CHURCH… The Lord’s church is a community of souls…. In whose hearts God is recognized as Sovereign. Therefore the church can properly be referred to as the kingdom of God today The terms “church” and “kingdom” can be used interchangeably, this is the way they were used by Jesus:
Matt. 16:18, 19
18* “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19* “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” We know that the term “kingdom” refers to the church because of the way that Paul uses these terms:
Col. 1:13, 14
13* For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14* in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
1 Thess 2:12
12* so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. 4) This kingdom has BOTH PRESENT AND FUTURE… The “kingdom of heaven” has a future element as well as a present one 2. Its future aspect is spoken of by: a. Jesus in Matt 25:34
34* “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Paul in 1 Cor 15:50 says 50* Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
2 Tim 4:18
18* The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Peter said in 2 Pet.
2 Pet. 1:10-11
10* Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11* for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. Peter described the coming of its future state in
2 Pet 3:10-13
10* But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11* ¶ Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12* looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13* But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. These four concepts or elements must be kept in mind whenever we think of the “kingdom of heaven”. Failure to remember all four can easily lead to misconceptions about the nature of the kingdom. 1) THE REIGN OF GOD… 2) THIS KINGDOM IS SPIRITUAL IN NATURE… 3) This Kingdom is VISIBLY MANIFESTED TODAY IN THE LORD’S CHURCH… 4) This kingdom has BOTH PRESENT AND FUTURE aspects to it….. IN THE “PRESENT” SENSE… It is found wherever the SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD is accepted in the hearts of men It is a SPIRITUAL KINGDOM, for God rules in the hearts of men Its outward manifestation today is the LORD’S CHURCH . This is the kingdom that was begun on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 IN THE “FUTURE” SENSE… The kingdom will be “CULMINATED” with the coming of the Lord When Jesus “delivers the kingdom to God the Father” – 1 Co 15:24 “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” – Mt 13:43 It will be that “NEW HEAVENS AND NEW EARTH” described by Peter and John “In which righteousness dwells” – 2 Pe 3:13 It will be experienced only by those in the church who are submitting to God’s will As we study the parables, there will be many references to the “kingdom of heaven” Sometimes it appears Jesus refers to the “present” aspect of the kingdom At other times He has reference to the “future” aspect of the kingdom.
(thanks to Mark A. Copeland for adapted notes above)