What Is The Kingdom Of Heaven?
What Is The Kingdom Of Heaven? (and When Was It Instituted)?
The theme of the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN or the KINGDOM OF GOD is a pervasive theme in the New Testament. “Kingdom of heaven” occurs at least thirty-two times in the New Testament. “Kingdom of God” appears at least sixty-eight times. At other times the Bible simply uses the term “the kingdom.”
The terms are used interchangeably. For example, Matthew 3:1-2 says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” But Mark 1:14-15 says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” And also, in Matthew 13:10-14 we read, “To you it has been given to know the kingdom of heaven but to them it has not been given.” But in the parallel passage of Mark 4:10-12 the text reads, “To you has been given the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables.” It is clear enough that these terms are speaking of the same thing―the new covenant world instituted by Jesus at his first coming. Note that it makes no sense to put the kingdom thousands of years later, in a so-called millennium. The phrase “at hand” demands that the kingdom was being initiated right there in the first century by Jesus’ presence. Jesus claimed to be king while on earth in the first century (John 12:12-15; 18:36-37; 28:18).
Millennialists sometimes separate the two terms, in an attempt to find both a spiritual kingdom and an earthly kingdom of a literal thousand rule reign of Christ on earth. But this distinction is incorrect. Matthew simply usually used the term “kingdom of heaven” instead of “kingdom of God” out of respect for Jewish tradition, which did not mention the name of God out of reverence. Jesus usually spoke of “the kingdom” or “my kingdom.”
The kingdom of God/heaven refers to the rule of Christ in the hearts of believers. Below are some other uses of these terms in the New Testament:
“Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Luke 10:8-9)
“But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20)
“Jesus replied, ‘The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” (Luke 17:20-21, NLT)
“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)
“So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.” (Luke 21:31)
“My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)
“The kingdom of God will be taken away from you [the Jews] and given to a people producing its fruits.” (Matthew 21:43)
“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” (Colossians 1:13)
“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” (Hebrews 12:28)
COMMENTS: The kingdom, as used in the above passages, is a spiritual one, not a worldly or political one. It corresponds to the spiritual rule of Christ in the new covenant―the kingdom being taken from the Jews and passed to the church (Matthew 21:43). Notice that the kingdom was instituted progressively. John the Baptist announced its soon arrival even before Jesus began his ministry (Matthew 3:1-2). Then shortly afterward, Jesus Himself confirms the arrival of the kingdom coincident with his announcement of the gospel (Mark 1:14-15).
Next, we can infer that Jesus marks the continuing steps of the kingdom’s progression with Pentecost and the granting of salvation to the Gentiles, when Jesus said that He would give Peter the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16:18-19, cf. Acts 2:14-41; Acts 10-11). Also notice that the kingdom had already been instituted in the first century (Luke 11:20; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 12:28), so that Christians were already experiencing the fulness of the kingdom in the first century.
Then finally we see the kingdom consummation at the Parousia that is Jesus’ effectual divine presence in judgment, in AD 70. Notice here that some living in the first century would see the full institution of the kingdom:
“For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and repay each person according to what he has done. Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man Coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28)
Revelation confirms that the kingdom had come (past tense to us per Revelation 1:1-3; 22:6-20) by the end of the so-called “millennium” and that it would continue forever (Revelation 11:15; 12:10; 22:5).
It is also a reasonable conclusion that the kingdom as described in the passages above as a precursor, or “shadow,” of heaven itself. Jesus said in Matthew 8:11, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” So, different from other descriptions, the “kingdom of heaven” can include a reference to heaven itself. There is no evidence that it will be a utopian millennial kingdom on earth, as some think.
The kingdom in many of tese passages was initiated with the gospel and Jesus’ ministry on earth, and thus appears to be tied to the acceptance of the good news through faith―and thus is more or less synonymous with the church. But that in no way limits Jesus’ rule and reign to the church only. Matthew 28:18 says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
We do not wait for a millennial kingdom, as dispensationalists think, in order for Jesus to reign. Jesus is reigning now and forever in heaven as King of King and Lord of Lords (Isaiah 9:6-7; Luke 1:33; John 5:19-29; 12:31; Acts 2:32-36; 7:48-50; 10:36; 17:31; Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 15:25; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Ephesians 1:20-23; Colossians 1:13-20; 1 Timothy 6:15; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1-14; 1 Peter 3:22; 1 John 3:8; Revelation 1:5; 3:21 (cf. 1 Samuel 8:7b; 11:15; 17:14; 19:16).
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