The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the Heavens
Time and again the question is asked, “What is the difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the heavens?” Many articles and books have been written on the subject. These have been read, but the same question is still asked, showing that the questioners are not satisfied. Let us turn to the Scriptures.
Twelve Important Facts Regarding the Use of the Terms the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the Heavens in Scripture
In order to compare the terms the kingdom of the heavens and the kingdom of God, we need to take account of the following facts:
1. Neither the kingdom of the heavens nor the kingdom of God are OT terms––they are found exclusively in the NT.
2. The term the kingdom of the heavens is only found in Matthew.
3. All four Gospel writers (including Matthew) use the term the kingdom of God.
4. John the Baptist always used the term the kingdom of the heavens in his proclamation of the kingdom––never the kingdom of God.
5. The Lord Jesus used both terms in His proclamation of the kingdom.
6. The kingdom of God is to be sought––no such thought is linked with the kingdom of the heavens.
7. The kingdom of God requires new birth for its entrance; the kingdom of the heavens does not.
8. The kingdom of God was said to be present when the Lord was here––but not the kingdom of the heavens.
9. The kingdom of God has been lost at the present moment by Israel; the kingdom of the heavens cannot be lost by them.
10. Entrance into the kingdom of the heavens is in the hands of men––but not the kingdom of God.
11. Men can prevent others entering the kingdom of the heavens but not the kingdom of God.
12. In the kingdom of the heavens there will be separation for judgement, but not in the kingdom of God.
The Kingdom in the Old Testament
While neither of the terms are to be found in the OT (Fact 1), the kingdom itself certainly is––like many other subjects developed in the NT, it has its roots in the OT. Hence we must see how the kingdom is presented in the old before we can hope to understand the bearing of the terms used to describe it in the new. Some of the prominent features of the kingdom in the OT are:
• It will be universal, embracing all nations (see Ps. 2: 8; Ps 47: 6–8; Dan. 7: 14).
• The nation of Israel will be dominant in it (Ps. 47: 3; Is. 60: 12 etc.), and its earthly centre will be Mount Zion in Jerusalem (see Ps. 2: 6; 48: 2; Is. 24: 23).
• It will be established in power (Ps. 2: 2, 9 etc.) and righteousness (Ps. 45: 6; Is. 32: 1).
• It will occasion a time of universal peace (Is. 2: 3, 4; Mic. 4: 3 etc.) and great natural and material prosperity (Mic. 4: 4; Is. 65: 21, 22).
• The Lord Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ (the Anointed) will be its universal King (Is. 9: 6, 7).
As a people steeped in the OT Scriptures, this was the kind of kingdom that the Jew was expecting when the Lord Jesus was born. However, there are certain features of the kingdom that were not made known in the OT. Thus while Dan 2: 44 makes it clear that this kingdom would last forever in the sense that it would never be destroyed, there is no indication in the OT that it would last 1000 years, or that Satan would be bound for its duration. All this awaited NT revelation.
Daniel’s Prophecies of the Kingdom
Before turning to the NT, we must consider these prophecies of Daniel. Their importance in regard to the kingdom can be judged by the simple fact that the word kingdom occurs in the book of Daniel 54 times––more than in any other OT book.
Daniel gives us the four great kingdoms of men (Babylon, Medo–Persia, Greece and Rome). In contrast to these kingdoms of men, I read: “And in the days of these kings shall the God of the heavens set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the sovereignty thereof shall not be left to another people: it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, but itself shall stand for ever” (Dan. 2: 44). Now Babylon was taken over by Medo–Persia, Medo–Persia fell to Greece, and Greece succumbed to Rome, but unlike these kingdoms of men, the sovereignty of the kingdom God sets up will not be left to another people. In this sense it will stand for ever. (Incidentally the clause “shall the God of the heavens set up a kingdom” contains the germ of both the expressions the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the heavens.) Again, we read “I saw in the night visions, and behold, there came with the clouds of heaven [one] like a son of man, and he came up even to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom [that] which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7: 13, 14). This finds its fulfilment in Rev. 11: 15: “And the seventh angel sounded [his] trumpet: and there were great voices in the heaven, saying, The kingdom of the world of our Lord and of his Christ is come, and he shall reign to the ages of ages”.
Now it is critical to understanding the truth of the kingdom to realise the place that Israel as a nation has in regard to it. The kingdom is Israel’s by sovereign right: “But the kingdom and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heavens, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most high [places]. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him” (Dan. 7: 27). Note carefully the language of this verse. The kingdom is given to the people of the saints of the most high places. Who are these people? Read what was said to Daniel: “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince who standeth for the children of thy people” (Dan. 12: 1). “Thy people”––Daniel’s people were Jews, part of the nation of Israel! To make it absolutely clear, both the saints of the most high places and Daniel’s people––the Jews––pass through a time of great distress (Dan. 7: 25; 12: 1). It is the same event and the same people. That nation will have the kingdom according to Dan 7: 27. However, we also read “But the saints of the most high [places] shall receive the kingdom, and they shall possess the kingdom for ever, even to the ages of ages … until the Ancient of days came, and judgement was given to the saints of the most high [places]; and the appointed time arrived, and the saints possessed the kingdom” (Dan. 7: 18–22). Israel (“thy people”), and no other nation, will have the kingdom, but the nation will not then include unbelievers. Possession of the kingdom is restricted to “the saints”––converted Israelites.
We are now in a position to consider the two terms descriptive of the kingdom that form the title to this paper. Let us begin by asking the following question:
Is the Kingdom of the Heavens the Same as the Kingdom of God?
Many believe that there is no difference between the two, and explain the fact that the term the kingdom of the heavens is peculiar to Matthew’s Gospel (Fact 2) by saying that it is just Matthew’s term for the kingdom of God. This thought is born out in measure by the fact that in clearly identical circumstances, Matthew uses the term the kingdom of the heavens, whilst the other Gospel writers use the term the kingdom of God. (For example compare Luke 18: 16 and Matt. 19: 14.) So does this prove that the two terms mean the same thing and are always interchangeable? This idea would have some weight if the term the kingdom of the heavens was the only term that Matthew used. However, on at least four occasions Matthew uses the term the kingdom of God (Fact 3). Perhaps the Holy Spirit uses the terms the kingdom of the heavens and the kingdom of God interchangeably merely for variation? Such a suggestion besmirches the character of the divine Author. Every word of Scripture is divinely inspired (1 Cor. 2: 13). Furthermore there are two occasions where Mark and Luke use the term the kingdom of God but where Matthew not only does not use the term the kingdom of God but does not use the term the kingdom of the heavens either! (Compare Matt. 16: 28 with Mark 9: 1 and Luke 9: 27; Matt. 26: 29 with Mark 14: 25 and Luke 22: 16.) Thus while there are instances where either term can be used as descriptive of the kingdom, there are others where they are clearly not interchangeable. This suggests that though there is only one kingdom, there are different aspects of that one kingdom.
The Peculiar Importance of Matthew’s Gospel
Dispensationally, Matthew’s Gospel is probably the most important book in the NT as it serves as the link between the old and the new. A few facts will help us here. Twelve times Matthew speaks of OT prophecies being fulfilled––more than any other NT book. The words king and kingdom, righteous and righteousness, occur in Matthew more than in any other Gospel. (Remember Is. 32: 1: “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness”.) Finally Matthew speaks of heaven 72 times whereas the word is mentioned just 68 times in the other three Gospels put together. Now it can be inferred that while the term the kingdom of God draws attention to whose kingdom it is, the term the kingdom of the heavens emphasises more where the rule is from––where the throne is. As it is Matthew who alone uses this latter term, it is no surprise to find that accordingly he alone records: “But I say unto you, Do not swear at all; neither by the heaven, because it is [the] throne of God; nor by the earth, because it is [the] footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem, because it is [the] city of the great King” (Matt. 5: 34, 35). Just as in the Roman empire the seat of government was in Rome, so in the kingdom of the heavens, the seat of authority is in the heavens. Again, as Matthew addresses his Gospel primarily to the Jew and presents the Lord Jesus principally as their King, this would indicate that the term the kingdom of the heavens has a particular application to Israel.
The Ministry of John the Baptist
This ministry is recorded in all four Gospels, but while Mark, Luke and John all speak of the baptism that John the Baptist preached they do not record any mention of the kingdom in his preaching. Only Matthew gives us that with the words “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn nigh” (Matt. 3: 2). Furthermore while John the Baptist preached the kingdom of the heavens, never once is it recorded that he used the phrase the kingdom of God (Fact 4). Now as Scripture does not record anyone querying John about the meaning of the term the kingdom of the heavens, it can be inferred that the Jews understood the kingdom of the heavens to be the kingdom as set out in the OT prophecies. John’s message was always limited to the Jew. He told them that the kingdom of the heavens was near and warned them of the moral changes that were essential if they were to enter it as individuals. The mark of outward submission to what John preached was baptism, and so those who believed his message “were baptised by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matt. 3: 6).
Now the Lord Jesus did not begin His public preaching until John’s service was ended by his imprisonment––an event that guaranteed that the King Himself and hence the kingdom, would be rejected. Nonetheless, when the Lord took up His service He continued John’s preaching of the kingdom of the heavens: “But having heard that John was delivered up … From that time began Jesus to preach and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn nigh” (Matt. 4: 12, 17). However, He also preached the kingdom of God: “But after John was delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the glad tidings of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1: 14). Thus while John preached only the kingdom of the heavens, the Lord preached both the kingdom of the heavens and the kingdom of God (Fact 5). The fact that the Lord Jesus used a new term shows that He gave a dimension to the kingdom that it did not possess before, namely that the kingdom of God would involve features that could not be covered by the expression the kingdom of the heavens.
The Ministry of the Lord
In Matt. 5–7 the Lord laid down the principles of the kingdom beginning with the words “Blessed [are] the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens” (Matt. 5: 3) and again, “Blessed they who are persecuted on account of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens” (Matt. 5: 10). These quotations show that while the nation of Israel had title to the kingdom, possession of it was not an automatic right but involved a moral condition on the part of the individual (as John the Baptist’s preaching had already demanded). However, as the nation already had title to the kingdom according to Dan. 7: 27 in its character as the kingdom of the heavens, it would have been inappropriate to urge them to seek it (Fact 6). Hence the Lord says instead “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (see Matt. 6: 33) using the phrase the kingdom of God for the first time in this gospel.
Entrance into the kingdom of God requires new birth (Fact 7), and is thus an individual, spiritual matter: “Except any one be born of water and of Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3: 5). Indeed, even to see it requires new birth: “Except any one be born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3: 3). However, new birth is never given as a requirement for entrance into the kingdom of the heavens. Thus the kingdom of God involves a spiritual side to the kingdom which the kingdom of the heavens lacks. This can be further seen from the background to Matt. 6: 33. The Lord knew how His audience were taken up with material things (which rightly have their place in the kingdom of the heavens) and so He says “Be not therefore careful, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we put on? for all these things the nations seek after; for your heavenly Father knows that ye have need of all these things” (Matt. 6: 31, 32). It is then that He says “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6: 33). Hence while the kingdom of the heavens embraces the material or physical aspects of the kingdom and has a moral dimension, it is as the kingdom of God that the kingdom has its spiritual dimension.
Now both aspects of the kingdom were presented by the Lord as come nigh: “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn nigh” (Matt. 4: 17) and “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has drawn nigh; repent and believe in the glad tidings” (Mark 1: 14). Later on, the kingdom of God was spoken of as already present (Fact 8). Thus we have “But if by the finger of God I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God is come upon you” and “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 11: 20; 17: 21). However, this was never said of the kingdom of the heavens. Now the kingdom of God could be said to be already present because the King was in the midst of His earthly people exercising the authority and spiritual power of the kingdom. By contrast the kingdom of the heavens could not be spoken of as in Israel’s midst, for the nation was still under the yoke of the fourth great world power (see Dan. 7: 7, 8)––they were still ruled by Rome. Thus when Matthew records the same event as just quoted from Luke 11: 20, he says “But if I by [the] Spirit of God cast out demons, then indeed the kingdom of God is come upon you” (Matt. 12: 28). He could not use the term the kingdom of the heavens because at that time the Jewish nation was under Roman rule and the other tribes of Israel were scattered to the four winds.
The setting of Matt. 12: 28 is important too, for it again shows that the term the kingdom of God embraces the spiritual side to the kingdom. The Lord had healed one who was possessed by a demon and uses this event to speak of the kingdom of Satan (see vs 22–27) where spiritual power is exercised through demons. Even before man was created, Satan’s kingdom existed––his exercise of authority over fallen angels in contrast to angels who remained subject to God. This suggests that while the display of the kingdom of God awaited the coming of Christ, essentially it has always been (and always will be) the sphere where the God’s authority is owned. Thus the kingdom of God is the kingdom in its everlasting aspect.
There are two other occasions where Matthew employs the term the kingdom of God and it is convenient to consider them now. (Leaving aside Matt. 19: 23 where the exact term used is not certain from the Greek.) The first of these is Matt. 21: 31 where “Jesus says to them, Verily I say unto you that the tax–gatherers and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you”. At the time this was said the kingdom of the heavens was still future but a spiritual work of God, in the soul had brought men and women under the authority of God and thus into the kingdom of God even then. Hence because it is the spiritual aspect of the kingdom that is in view, Matthew uses the term the kingdom of God.
The second instance is when the Lord says to the Jews “Therefore I say to you, that the kingdom of God shall be taken from you and shall be given to a nation producing the fruits of it” (Matt. 21: 43). As a nation, Israel cannot lose the kingdom of the heavens, although many individuals (who are the sons of the kingdom in that they have title to it on account of birth) will be cast out (see Matt. 8: 11, 12). However, spiritual blessing has been lost to Israel nationally at the present time (though not to individuals). That is why the Lord says “the kingdom of God shall be taken from you” (Fact 9). They have lost the testimony of the kingdom of God––confirmed by Paul when he said “lo, we turn to the nations” (Acts 13: 46; see also Rom. 11: 11–21). Thus on the final rejection by the Jews in Rome of the testimony of the kingdom of God, while it says of Paul that he “received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God …” (Acts 28: 30), he charges Israel as a nation with Is. 6: 9–10 (see vs 26, 27)––governmentally kept from conversion––and tells them “Be it known to you therefore, that this salvation of God has been sent to the nations; they also will hear [it]” (v28).
We have seen that the kingdom prophesied in the OT was to be a universal rule under the Messiah, established in power and maintained in righteousness. It would also be a reign of peace with great natural and material prosperity. Within this kingdom Israel has a title to national dominance, but in reality only converted Israelites will be in possession. This kingdom was preached by both John the Baptist and the Lord Himself as the kingdom of the heavens. After John’s imprisonment the Lord also preached the kingdom as the kingdom of God. As such it is in contrast to Satan’s kingdom, has an everlasting character and requires new birth if men are to enter it. It thus has features not possessed under the term the kingdom of the heavens. The kingdom as the kingdom of God could be spoken of as already present when the Lord was here because He exercised spiritual power over Satan and his demons. This could not be said of the kingdom of the heavens, because the Jewish nation at that time was under Gentile rule.
Our conclusions came from twelve important facts regarding the terms the kingdom of the heavens and the kingdom of God. Having dealt with the first nine of these facts, we must now examine the remaining three:
10. Entrance into the kingdom of the heavens is in the hands of men––not so the kingdom of God.
11. Men can prevent others entering the kingdom of the heavens, but not the kingdom of God.
12. The kingdom of the heavens involves separation for judgement––not so the kingdom of God.
The Kingdom Consequent on the Lord’s Rejection by the Jews
In the Gospels the kingdom was preached exclusively to the Jews. Initially it was presented to them by John as the kingdom of the heavens, but the Lord subsequently presented it as both the kingdom of the heavens and the kingdom of God. Now both the forerunner and the Messiah were rejected which meant that the establishment of the kingdom in power was put on hold. The question thus arises as to what happens to both aspects of the kingdom in the light of that rejection.
In Matt. 21: 1–11 the Lord made the formal offer of Himself as Israel’s Messiah when he rode into Jerusalem in fulfilment of prophecy: “Behold, thy King cometh to thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zech. 9: 9). The response to this offer was His crucifixion. This was but the final outcome of His rejection earlier by the rulers of the Jews (see Matt. 12: 9–45) when accordingly the Lord’s ministry had taken on a radical change: He charged that He should no longer be made publicly known (Matt. 12: 16; see also 16: 20), and also began to speak of “the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens” (Matt. 13: 11) and “the mysteries of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8: 10). Instead of the establishment of the kingdom in manifest power on earth, it was now to be in mystery form––the word mystery indicating that some are in the secret of a matter (the modern phrase in the know is equivalent) while others remain in ignorance. Associated with this new phase of the kingdom would be the ministry of parables: “But as they were listening to these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem and they thought that the kingdom of God was about to be immediately manifested” (Luke 19: 11).
Entrance into the Kingdom
We have previously seen that new birth is essential for entrance to the kingdom of God (see John 3: 3, 5). All who own divine authority as a result of the work of God in the soul are in the kingdom of God. The ultimate results of that spiritual work will not come into display until the kingdom is established in power in the world to come. However, consequent on the rejection of the Lord as Messiah and the delay in the setting up of the kingdom in manifest power, the Lord said to Peter: “And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of the heavens; and whatsoever thou mayest bind upon the earth shall be bound in the heavens; and whatsoever thou mayest loose on the earth shall be loosed in the heavens” (Matt. 16: 19). From this it is evident that entrance into the kingdom of the heavens is now in the hands of men (Fact 10). No similar words are ever applied to the kingdom of God as entrance into that aspect of the kingdom, being by new birth, is entirely in the hands of God. In Acts 2 Peter used one of those keys for the entrance of the repentant in Israel with his testimony to the Man now occupying heaven’s throne: “For David has not ascended into the heavens, but he says himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit at my right hand until I have put thine enemies [to be] the footstool of thy feet. Let the whole house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him, this Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2: 34–36). Just as the repentant in Israel had shown their acceptance of John’s testimony to the kingdom of the heavens by baptism, so now consequent on Peter’s preaching “Those then who had accepted his word were baptised” (Acts 2: 41). Later Peter used another key to admit the first Gentiles who bowed to the authority of the Man on heaven’s throne, asking the Jews with him “Can any one forbid water that these should not be baptised?” (Acts 10: 47). Thus the kingdom of the heavens was extended to embrace Gentiles as well as Jews, and entrance was in the hands of men––for it is men who administer baptism. If this is so, then it is no surprise to find that previously the Lord had said to the scribes and Pharisees: “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye shut up the kingdom of the heavens before men; for ye do not enter, nor do ye suffer those that are entering to go in” (Matt. 23: 13). Here the Lord was referring back to their attitude to John’s baptism, which though it did not actually bring persons into the kingdom of the heavens (which was only in prospect then), was a necessary prerequisite for entering it. The Pharisees not only rejected John’s baptism, but sought to prevent others being baptised too. The time of John’s baptism was now past, and Christian baptism was about to be brought in, but the attitude of the Pharisees remained the same. They would prevent persons being baptised if they could. Thus entrance into the kingdom of the heavens after the Lord was rejected and left this scene is not only in the hands of men, but men can prevent persons going in as well (Fact 11). Such things are never said about the kingdom of God. Again, as men make mistakes, it follows that we should expect both genuine and false believers in the kingdom of the heavens at the present time. This will be confirmed when we look at the parables of the kingdom. Before we do so, however, there is an apparent difficulty that we must consider.
In Matt. 18: 3 it says “Unless ye are converted and become as little children, ye will not at all enter into the kingdom of the heavens” and in Mark 10: 15 it also says “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall in no wise enter into it”. These two Scriptures show that conversion and childlike reception are necessities for entrance into both aspects of the kingdom. Does this undermine what has already been said about new birth being essential for entrance into the kingdom as the kingdom of God but not as the kingdom of the heavens? No, for neither Scripture speaks of what is inward. Here, to be converted (to change one’s life around), and to become as little children, are outward matters, and may be genuine or otherwise. If genuine (because of new birth), then the person concerned is in the kingdom of God, and hence also in the kingdom of the heavens. If the submission is not real, then the individual, while in the kingdom of the heavens, cannot be in the kingdom of God. This is the state of the kingdom at the present time.
The Parables of the Kingdom
As we have seen, once the Lord was rejected as Israel’s Messiah, He speaks of the kingdom in mystery form. Associated with this we get the parables of the kingdom.
Looking at these parables the thought of profession, and of the mixture of those who are real with those who are false, is always under the heading of the kingdom of the heavens––never the kingdom of God. The parables of the kingdom of the heavens in which there is both true and false, are the wheat and the darnel (Matt. 13: 24–30), the good and the worthless (Matt. 13: 47–50), and the prudent and foolish virgins (Matt. 25: 1–13). In all of these there is, on the Lord’s return, the separation of the good from the bad (Fact 12). None of these parables are found elsewhere under the heading of the kingdom of God, for the simple reason that there are only genuine believers in that aspect of the kingdom. Hence, for example, the parable of the seed (Mark 4: 26–29) in which there is only good, is a parable of the kingdom of God, and is never given as a parable of the kingdom of the heavens. Some may object that the argument falls down with the parable of the minas (Luke 19: 11–27) which contains both good and evil despite being connected to the kingdom of God. Laying aside the fact that the parable is not distinctly said to be a parable of the kingdom of God, consider the detail. The citizens (clearly representing unbelieving Jews) do not own the authority of the high–born man and hence cannot be viewed as in either aspect of the kingdom. They are the only ones slain on the man’s return. There is no judgement for the bondmen, whether good or bad. The clarity of this may be enhanced by comparing this parable not only with the other parables already mentioned (wheat and darnel etc.) but with that of the apparently similar parable of the talents in Matt. 25: 14–30. Matthew makes no connection between this parable and the kingdom of God, but it contains a very definite separation and judgement for the wicked bondman.
Once more, some may point out that the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven are given as parables of the kingdom of God as well as parables of the kingdom of the heavens. This is true, but in neither parable is there the thought of judgement or separation of that which is true from that which is false. Let us take the parable of the mustard seed first. For the kingdom of the heavens it is given in Matt. 13: 31, 32, and for the kingdom of God in Mark 4: 30–32 and Luke 13: 18, 19. In all three accounts the general thought is the same: that which starts off as minute becomes so great that it can provide a lodging place for the birds of the heavens. Taking the birds of the heaven to represent spiritual wickedness in high places (see Matt. 13: 4, 19 and Eph. 6: 12 AV) as such they do not in themselves form part of the kingdom and so there is no thought of separation or judgement. The one singular thought in the parable is growth. In the present day the kingdom has grown and become great, whether we think of those who truly believe and are subject to God (the kingdom of God), or if we embrace the whole of that which professes to own the authority of heaven, both genuine and false, (the kingdom of the heavens). Sadly, in both aspects of the kingdom, spiritual wickedness (for example, fleshly pride connecting itself with the things of God) may sometimes find a roosting place––amongst believers as well as in the wider sphere of profession.
The parable of the leaven is detailed for the kingdom of the heavens in Matt. 13: 33 and for the kingdom of God in Luke 13: 20, 21. Leaven is used symbolically in Scripture to represent evil (see Matt. 16: 12; Luke 12: 1; 1 Cor. 5: 8; Gal. 5: 9 etc.)––it has the same ability to spread insidiously and to permeate that into which it is placed until the diffusion is complete. In the parable of the leaven it is hidden by a woman in three measures of meal. These may represent that which is offered to God for His satisfaction. (Compare this with Gen. 18: 6 where three seahs of wheaten flour were taken to provide food for Abraham’s three heavenly visitors.) What is offered to God should be free from evil. Sadly evil has permeated what is offered to God in worship and praise by true believers and false professors alike, and hence the parable is given under the heading of both the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the heavens. Yet again, there is no thought of separation of the leaven from the meal in the parable, simply the spread of the leaven throughout the meal until it is all leavened.
The Kingdom in the Acts and the Epistles
As the kingdom of the heavens is that aspect of the kingdom that embraces what is real and what is false at the present time, it is never used in the preachings or exhortations found in the Acts or the Epistles. In these books the term generally used is the kingdom of God, either in its present spiritual phase as in Rom. 14: 17: “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in [the] Holy Spirit”, or in its future phase in display and power as in 1 Thess. 2: 12: “that ye should walk worthy of God, who calls you to his own kingdom and glory”.
Summary of the Two Aspects of the Kingdom
There is but one kingdom, but it is presented in Scripture as having different aspects under several terms, of which the dominant two are the kingdom of the heavens and the kingdom of God. It is also presented under different phases: past, present and future. It was prophesied in the OT, was in prospect when the Messiah came, is in mystery at the present time, and will be in display in the millennium.
As revealed in the OT, the kingdom would be universal in its extent, but with the nation of Israel dominant. It would be established in power, maintained in righteousness, and provide great natural and material prosperity on the earth. While Israel had title to it nationally, only those Israelites who repented and were converted would possess it. This was the aspect of the kingdom preached by John as the kingdom of the heavens. Baptism was the outward sign of the acceptance of John’s testimony. After John was imprisoned, the Lord continued John’s preaching of the kingdom of the heavens but also introduced a new aspect of the kingdom under the term the kingdom of God. As the kingdom of God, the kingdom is contrasted with Satan’s kingdom. Hence this view of the kingdom extends back before man’s creation and forward into eternity. It is the spiritual aspect of the kingdom and so to enter it man must be born again. In contrast to the kingdom of the heavens, it has no national distinctions and it is not connected to any particular time period. While the kingdom as the kingdom of the heavens was future when the Lord was here, as the kingdom of God it could be spoken of as present because the Lord exercised spiritual power over Satan and his demons.
Consequent on the Lord’s rejection by the Jew, the setting up of the kingdom in public display was put on hold and the mystery phase of the kingdom began. This brought out further differences between the two major aspects of the kingdom. While the kingdom of God embraced all who were born again, the kingdom of the heavens embraced all who submitted to the authority of the Man on heaven’s throne by being baptised. The kingdom of the heavens thus contained true believers and false believers because the keys to its entrance (baptism) was put in the hands of men. Hence when the Lord returns, separation and judgement take place in the kingdom of the heavens.
The Relevance of the Truth of the Kingdom to You
The moment is close when the King will return and the kingdom will be no longer in mystery but in manifestation and power. Will you be there? Are you one who will reign with Him? At that time the two predominant aspects of the kingdom, the kingdom of the heavens and the kingdom of God, will have coalesced because that which is false will have been removed in judgement from the kingdom of the heavens. Sadly, there will be those who, although they had claimed to own His authority, had prophesied through His name, cast out demons through His name and in His name done many works of power, will nonetheless have to hear Him say in that day “I never knew you. Depart from me, workers of lawlessness”. Such will not enter the millennial kingdom for, as the Lord solemnly declared “Not every one who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but he that does the will of my Father who is in the heavens” (see Matt. 7: 21–23). How much better to be able to say with Paul “The Lord shall deliver me from every wicked work, and shall preserve [me] for his heavenly kingdom; to whom [be] glory for the ages of ages. Amen” (2 Tim. 4: 18). “Amen; come, Lord Jesus” (Rev: 22: 20).