Daily Gospel Reflection

The Spirituality of God's Kingdom

While it is widely recognized that the most persistent subject in the teaching and preaching of Jesus Christ was the Kingdom of God, there has been some disagreement as to what that phrase means. The kingdom of God is over all, while the Kingdom of Heaven referred to the personal presence of the king from heaven (Jesus Christ) on earth. There are verses in the Old Testament that state that God's kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and is over all (such as I Chronicles 29:11,12; Psalm 22:28; 103:19; 145:13; Daniel 4:3). But there are specific descriptions, especially in the Prophets and in the Gospels, of the Messiah reigning on earth. According to the theory I was taught, the Kingdom of Heaven started when Jesus began his public ministry, and will again be reinstated when he returns to reign, as described in the Book of Revelation. In the meantime, it is "held in abeyance" during this Church age, when a new aspect of God's plan has been revealed.

I began to realize that my understanding of the Kingdom of God was sorely lacking when it was pointed out to me that the two phrases "Kingdom of God" and "Kingdom of Heaven" were synonymous. Consider the following verses:

Matthew 5:
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Luke 6:
20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.

The same statement, in two different gospels, is worded two different ways. Here are two more:

Matthew 18:
4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Luke 18:
17 Verily I say unto you, whoever shall not receives the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.

Again, two different ways are used to say the same thing. The Gospel of Matthew is the only one that uses the phrase "kingdom of heaven." The other Gospel writers always use "kingdom of God." One is literal, the other figurative. Both refer to the same thing. Consider the preaching of John the Baptist.

Matthew 3:
1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Luke 16:
16 The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presses into it.

What John the Baptist preached is called "the kingdom of God" in Luke, and "the kingdom of heaven" in Matthew. Did John preach two different gospels? Jesus' call to repentance also uses different phrases in Matthew and Mark.

Matthew 4:
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Mark 1:
14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

Did Jesus preach two different gospels? When he sent out the twelve, what were they told to preach?

Matthew 10:
5 These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:
6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
7 And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Luke 9:
1 Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases.
2 And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.

Again, did they preach two different gospels? It is called by different names, but only one gospel is meant.

Matthew 11:
11 Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Luke 7:
28 For I say unto you, among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.

There are a number of instances in which the same thing is said, using one phrase in Matthew and another in the other gospels. Compare Matthew 13:11 with Mark 4:11 and Luke 8:10. Compare Matthew 13:31 with Mark 4:30,31 and Luke 13:18,19. Also Matthew 13:33 with Luke 13:20,21; and Matthew 19:14 with Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16. There is even a passage in Matthew in which both "kingdom of heaven" and "kingdom of God" are used.

Matthew 19:
23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

But the parallel records in Mark and Luke use only "kingdom of God" in both sentences.

Mark 10:
24 And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!
25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Luke 18:
24 And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hard shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
25 For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

As you can see, the phrases "Kingdom of God" and "Kingdom of Heaven" are synonymous. It is so obvious that I am amazed and somewhat ashamed that I never saw it in my many years of supposed Biblical research!

So, you may ask, what did Jesus actually say--"kingdom of heaven" or "kingdom of God"? Some people might even consider it a contradiction. But the gospels do not record a verbatim word for word quotation of the words of Jesus Christ, or of anyone else for that matter. God is interested in conveying the meaning that He wants people to understand. Biblical research which focuses on minutely detailed word studies often miss the point of what's being communicated.

There is no indication in any of the words of Jesus that there is a distinction between "kingdom of God" and "kingdom of heaven". The two terms are synonymous. "Kingdom of God" is the literal term for what Jesus preached, while "kingdom of heaven" is a figurative way of saying the same thing. It is figurative because "heaven" is put for "God" who dwells there.

Daniel 4:
26 And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots; thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shall have known that the heavens do rule.

The heavens do not literally rule, but refer figuratively to God who dwells there. In the parable commonly known as "the prodigal son" recorded in Luke 15, the son says that he sinned against heaven.

Luke 15:
18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee.
21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.

He did not literally sin against heaven, but against God. This is a common figure of speech in Hebrew culture. Things from God are frequently said to be "from heaven" or "heavenly". The kingdom of God is called a "heavenly kingdom" in II Timothy 4:18, because it is from God in heaven. "Kingdom of God" and "Kingdom of heaven" are two different ways of saying the same thing.

     


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