Every now and then I hear Christians talking about building up God’s kingdom here as we serve the Lord. Please comment, as l have been taught to be cautious about such terminology. Also, what is the difference in the Bible between “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of Heaven’?
Generally speaking, the use of the word “kingdom” refers to the Millennium, the coming thousand-year reign of Christ on earth (Rev. 20). This Kingdom, of course, is the one the Lord’s Prayer refers to in Matthew 6:10: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” Some people think they can bring this Kingdom in through prayer or making this world a better place to live. But it can come only in God’s timetable.
The Kingdom on earth (Millennium) begins at the Second Advent. God alone determines such events. By-products of these events likewise are not brought about apart from the coming King. For example, many people attempt to bring about world peace. But the Kingdom and its benefits can never be separated from the rule of the perfect King. The Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7 promises the King, and He will have a kingdom (see also Matt. 1:1; Luke 1:32). This event is on the earth, and the Lord Jesus Christ will be present. He is indeed King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The Gospel according to Matthew gives us Christ’s royal genealogy. Showing that Jesus Christ is truly the King of the Jews, it also gives us the Sermon on the Mount and the moral principles governing the coming Kingdom. Then it traces the unbelief, opposition and rejection of the Jews toward the King and the Kingdom. The Kingdom was thus, in effect, postponed.
There is also a sense in the Scriptures where the word “kingdom” refers to those who are born again of the Spirit of God. Only they are admitted into this kingdom. This is the spiritual kingdom that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Passages such as Matthew 6:33; Acts 8:12; Romans 14:17; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 1:13 (“Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son”); and 2 Thessalonians 1:5 refer to this spiritual kingdom.
Other “kingdoms” in the Bible include God’s universal kingdom, earthly kingdoms, the kingdom of Satan and the “mystery form” of the kingdom.
God’s universal kingdom is the Biblical concept of God’s being the Sovereign over the universe. Psalm 10:16, for example, states, “The Lord is King for ever and ever.” Lamentations 5:19 reads, “Thou, O Lord, remainest for ever; thy throne from generation to generation.” Lucifer challenged God’s universal reign and was consequently cast out of Heaven. Ezekiel 28:11–19 and Isaiah 14:12–17 record this event. He still challenges the sovereignty of God today. For this reason, the Scriptures also mention the “kingdom” of Satan. Matthew 12:26; Luke 11:18; and Ephesians 6:12 are passages that reveal Satan has a “kingdom.”
Scripture records earthly kingdoms, or nations, as kingdoms over which human beings rule. Satan offered Jesus this kind of kingdom when he tempted Him in the wilderness (Matt. 4:8–10).
Many Bible teachers believe the “mystery form” of the kingdom in Matthew 13 refers to the whole sphere of Christendom during this age, in contrast with true Christianity, and that the pearl mentioned in verses 45 and 46 represents the true believers—the Church, His Body and Bride. Purchasing a pearl of great price corresponds with the apostle Paul’s description of Christ’s work for us: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though, he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
This “mystery form” of the kingdom wouldn’t refer only to believers or to the Body of Christ, as tares are in with the wheat, and the bad fish are in with the good (see Matt. 13:47–49). But it does picture Christendom—with its mere professors of Christ, along with the true believers. This “mystery form” also would not be the millennial Kingdom, for Old Testament prophets clearly predicted and outlined the Millennium. A mystery is a truth that the Old Testament did not reveal but the New did. And it cannot refer to earthly kingdoms, since kingdoms existed before the present age began.
This present age is referred to as a mystery. For one thing, the true Church exists, made up of both believing Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 3:3-6). It is also a mystery because God’s program for Israel was suspended—blindness would come upon Israel during this Church Age because of her rejection of her Messiah, and God would reach to and use Gentiles in His program for this present age. Romans 11:25 states, “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.”
The Bible also calls redemption a mystery (see Col. 2:2; 4:3), as well as the Incarnation (1 Tim. 3:16).
Now, to answer your question about the difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Heaven: The Scriptures use the terms interchangeably. Both terms can refer to the millennial Kingdom, the spiritual kingdom or the “mystery form” of the kingdom. The individual context must determine the use of these terms. For instance, if Matthew 3:2 and 4:17 and Mark 9:1 refer to the future millennial Kingdom (and I believe they do), then “kingdom of heaven” is used in Matthew and “kingdom of God” is used in Mark to designate the same kingdom. In another instance, Matthew 13:11 uses “kingdom of heaven,” and Luke 8:10 uses “kingdom of God.” Both of these passages refer to the “mystery form” of the kingdom. Some scholars have pointed out that in Matthew the writer more often used “kingdom of heaven” because he was writing to Jews who had an extremely reverent attitude toward the name “God,” to the point of not using it.
I would say with regard to your caution about references to the kingdom, the main consideration is that people know what we mean and what we’re referring to. We must not give people false impressions about our present Church Age—that we can do or expect now what can be done or expected only in Christ’s bodily reign, the Millennium.
Luke 17:21, one interesting passage, gives Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ question of when the kingdom of God should come. He replied, “For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Did He mean that the indwelling Christ was in them? No, He meant rather that He was “in their midst.” He was presenting Himself as the King, but they would not accept Him.
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