Please comment on the various kingdoms of the Bible, as they are somewhat confusing. For example, I want to know the difference between the “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of Heaven.”
Let me answer the second part of your question first. There isn’t a significant difference in the two terms, for they are used interchangeably. What matters is the context. For example, both terms can refer to the coming millennial Kingdom and also to the “mystery form” of the kingdom, which I will identify and comment on presently. In Matthew 3:2 and 4:17 and in Mark 9:1, we have examples of both terms used to refer to the future millennial Kingdom. “Kingdom of heaven” is used in Matthew, and “kingdom of God” is used in the Mark passage.
Matthew 13:11 is an example of the “mystery form” of the kingdom referred to as the “kingdom of heaven.” Luke 8:10 refers to the same as the “kingdom of God.”
It certainly is helpful in understanding God’s Word to know and understand the various kingdoms of the Bible.
One “kingdom” in Scripture is what we might call “God’s universal kingdom.” This concept is that God is the sovereign over the entire universe. First Chronicles 29:11 and 12 declare,
Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all. Both riches and honour come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all.
Psalm 10:16 affirms,
The Lord is King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of his land.
And Lamentations 5:19 reads,
Thou, O Lord, remainest for ever; thy throne from generation to generation.
These and other passages speak of God’s universal reign over His entire creation. This reign was challenged by Lucifer, who was consequently deposed from Heaven. Ezekiel 28:11–19 and Isaiah 14:12–17 record this event. He still challenges the sovereignty of God today and will continue to do so until God confines him during all but the end of the Millennium (the 1,000-year rule of Christ upon the earth) and ultimately banishes him and his angels to Hell forever (Rev. 20:1–10).
A second kingdom in the Bible is the kingdom composed of all believers, the “spiritual kingdom.” Only those who experience the new birth are admitted into this kingdom. This kingdom is the one that Jesus spoke of when he conversed with Nicodemus at night (John 3:1–21). We also read of this kingdom in such familiar passages as Matthew 6:33, Acts 8:12, Romans 14:17, Galatians 5:21, Ephesians 5:5, and 2 Thessalonians 1:5.
A third kingdom is “earthly kingdoms,” or nations of the world. Human beings, under God’s direction and allowance, rule these. Satan offered Jesus this category of kingdom when he tempted the Son of God in the wilderness (Matt. 4:8—10).
A fourth kingdom, “Satan’s kingdom,” is referred to in Matthew 12:26, Luke 11:18, and Ephesians 6:12.
A fifth kingdom of Scripture is the “millennial Kingdom,” which we have already mentioned. This kingdom is yet to come. Currently believers live in what we commonly note as the Church Age. At any moment the Lord Jesus Christ will catch away (rapture) all true believers in Him, and we will be with Him forever (1 Thess. 4:16, 17). After the Rapture, the Great Tribulation of seven years will take place upon the earth. This event will be a demonstration of God’s divine wrath poured upon a world that has rejected Him and His Son. After the Tribulation, Christ will return to the earth in His glory along with believers to set up His 1,000-year reign upon David’s throne in fulfillment of His unconditional promise to His chosen people the Jews, known as the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:8–17; Matt. 1:1; Luke 1:32).
Finally, I need to mention the “mystery form” of the kingdom. A key passage is Matthew 13, where the mysteries of the kingdom are presented. Various Bible teachers maintain that this “mystery form” refers to the whole sphere of Christendom during this age, in contrast to true Christianity, and that the pearl mentioned in verses 45 and 46 represents the true believers, the true, believing Church (His Body and Bride). Purchasing a pearl of great price corresponds well with the apostle Paul’s description of Christ’s work for us in 2 Corinthians 8:9.
Back to Matthew 13:24–30, the Lord knows who are His (the wheat), in contrast to those who are not (the tares). Therefore, this “mystery form” would not refer only to believers or to the Body of Christ, for tares are in with the wheat, and the bad fish are in with the good (Matt. 13:47–49). So it is with Christendom; there are the mere professors of Christ, and there are the true believers.
This “mystery form” would not refer to the millennial Kingdom either, because the Millennium wasn’t a mystery; it was clearly predicted by the Old Testament prophets. A mystery is a truth that was not revealed in the Old Testament but is revealed in the New Testament.
The present age—from Christ’s first advent and Israel’s rejection of Him as the Messiah to Christ’s second advent—is called a mystery in Scripture. Paul wrote of this mystery in passages such as Colossians 1:25–27, Romans 16:25 and 26, 1 Corinthians 2:1–8, and Ephesians 3:1–12.
The “mystery form” of the kingdom cannot be the spiritual kingdom either, because that kingdom includes only the saved, as I already pointed out. Also, it cannot refer to the earthly kingdoms, since there were such kingdoms in existence before the present age began.
The present age is referred to as a mystery because it is an interruption of God’s program for Israel (Matt. 13:11). Jesus indicated that Israel would be blinded to the truth during the Church Age, and Romans 11:25 shows us that God would reach to and use Gentiles during this age:
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
A mystery in this present Church Age is the fact that the Church consists of both converted Jews and Gentiles by God’s grace (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 3:3–6).
The Bible also calls redemption and Christ’s incarnation mysteries (Col. 2:2; 4:3; 1 Tim. 3:16). We also find in this age what the Bible refers to as the “mystery of iniquity,” along with the apostate religious system (2 Thess. 2:7; Rev. 17:5, 7).
Thus the present age is truly a mystery revealed in many ways. These were not revealed before, but they are certainly known now through God’s revelation to man.
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