Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God?

Is the Kingdom of God different from the Kingdom of Heaven?

It seems that there is a common belief among Baptists (and other denominations) that there is a difference between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven.

This was brought home yesterday in a conversation I had with a couple of ladies who were visiting the neighborhood from a local Baptist church. They stated the above belief very clearly and gave some reasons for believing it. The crux of their reasoning is, I think, that since the Lord was unable to establish His Kingdom of Heaven, then the Kingdom of God was substituted, and what we now have is not the Kingdom as the Lord intended it. Their claim is that the Kingdom which God intended to establish was rejected by the Jews, and so the substitution had to be made. When questioned about this making God a "failure" in His purposes, their claim was that He planned it to go either way; had the Jews accepted the Kingdom, then the Kingdom of Heaven would have been established, but since they rejected it, the Kingdom of God was brought in (which, according to their arguments, was also in the plan somehow).

I've often wanted to do a study on this subject, and have in the past, but never got around to making written notes on it. This effort will correct that little shortcoming.

Does God, and in particular our Lord, make a distinction between the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God? Are they two different things, or are they interchangeable names for the same Kingdom? Probably the reason I never bothered to make written notes on the subject lies in the fact that the answer arises so quickly from the New Testament Scriptures.

If you have a computer and a Bible software program (or use the old standby Strong's Concordance or something similar), do a search on the word "kingdom" for the New Testament only. How it is used in the Old Testament is important, but the interpretation of the Old Testament lies in the New Testament, so most such questions can be answered by referencing it alone.

Once you have done the above search, depending on the translation you used, you will probably come up with about 158 uses of the term "kingdom" in about 150 verses of the New Testament. This is the exact count if you used the King James Version for your search. Just begin reading these references and see if you don't see the answer fairly quickly.

Follow the references until you get to His explanation of His parable of the sower. It's a familiar parable, and is recounted by Matthew, Mark and Luke. Notice that when He is asked to explain this parable, He begins by making a statement to His disciples:

(Mat 13:11 NKJV) He answered and said to them, "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given."

(Mark 4:11 NKJV) And He said to them, "To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables,"

(Luke 8:10 NKJV) And he said, "To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to the rest it is given in parables; that 'Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.'"

It doesn't take a scholar to notice that these passages are parallel, meaning they are recounting the same event and discourse. Matthew records that Jesus said the parable referred to the "Kingdom of Heaven" while Mark and Luke record that He was referring to the "Kingdom of God." Do we have an error in the text here? Is Matthew mistaken? Does the Lord mean to tell us about two different Kingdoms?

You'll have to pardon me if I state the obvious: No. The parable was not about two kingdoms, but about the Kingdom which God had foretold by the prophets. You cannot make this parable refer to two different kingdoms. It is clear that Matthew, Mark and Luke, and the Lord, considered the Kingdom of Heaven equivalent to the Kingdom of God. They are one and the same.

God did not fail in his prophecies to establish the Kingdom and substitute something else for it. He established it when He said He was going to (Daniel 2:44-45), where He said He was going to (Isaiah 2:2-3), and how He said He was going to (Joel 2:28-32). All were fulfilled with the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2. The conditions of citizenship in that Kingdom are the same for us as it was for the Jews on that day who asked "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" "Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..."

March 3, 2006
Roger Lindsey