In one of my recent posts, I ventured to state that I had found the answer to a minor point of curiosity on my part dealing with the presence of two similar terms used in the Bible, those terms being "kingdom of heaven" and "kingdom of God". My answer, based on two verses in the Gospel of Matthew was that they are the same. A reader was quick to point out to me that there is indeed a distinct difference between them in that the kingdom of heaven is a literal physical kingdom that the Jews will inherit while the kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom that the Church will inherit. In this post I would like to attempt to imitate those of Berea and search the scripture to see if this is so.
As we look at the occurrences of the two terms, it becomes evident that if they are not two names describing the same kingdom, then at the very least both kingdoms share a number of striking similarities.
For instance, from Matthew 13:10-11 and Mark 4:10-11, we can see that truths about both the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God were revealed by Jesus in parables so that only those who were chosen to understand, would understand. In fact from these verses we also must conclude that the same parable of the soils can be used to reveal the same mystery regarding each kingdom.
Matthew 13:31-32 coupled with Mark 4:30-32 inform us that both the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are like a grain of mustard seed.
Mark 10:14 and Matthew 19:14 together inform us that both kingdoms are made of those who share the characteristics of little children.
From Matthew 11:11 and Luke 7:28 we may glean that he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the baptist, ...and that so is he that is least in the kingdom of God.
Now, the fact that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God share these four characteristics does not by itself prove that they are one in the same, but it should at the very least make one take it into consideration.
If one were to take the position that the kingdom of heaven is to be the inheritance of the Old testament Jews and the kingdom of God will be made up of New Testament saints, then one must consider that Jesus, as recorded in Mark 1:14-15, preached repentance and that the kingdom of God was "at hand." But John the baptist, in Matthew 3:2 preached "repent" for the kingdom of heaven is "at hand." This poses a bit more of a problem for the two kingdom view. It is easy to see a spiritual kingdom as being at hand (or "drawn near", as some translations put it), but how would one apply being "at hand" to a literal physical kingdom for the Jews. If anything concerning such a kingdom was at hand, it was its destruction by Titus in 70 A.D. The absence of anything resembling a Jewish kingdom for nearly 1900 years can hardly be something easily reconciled with "at hand." Was John mistaken or could both he and Jesus have been describing the same kingdom with different words?
Perhaps just as puzzling would be the conversation between Jesus and Niccodemus as recorded in John chapter 3. In verse 3 Jesus says "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Okay, if there are two kingdoms, that tells us that the spiritual kingdom occupied by the New Testament believers can only be seen by those who are born again. That is all well and good, but a few verses later Jesus expresses surprise saying "Art thou a master (teacher) of Israel, and knowest not these things?" Well, ...at least I guess you could read that as surprise. I personally don’t believe that Jesus was ever surprised; I see that statement as more of a chastisement. But either way, why should a teacher in Israel be expected to know about a new kingdom that was just coming into existence? Odd.
Another piece of scripture that does not quite seem to fit in with a two kingdom view can be found in Matthew 16:19 where Jesus announces that he will give the keys to the kingdom of heaven to the disciples. Now this verse has often been used (and too often abused) to assert power given to the church. But was Jesus real purpose to teach that the church will have power over the physical kingdom occupied by Old Testament saints?
In my original post on this subject, the scripture that I presented in support of my understanding of the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God being one in the same was Matthew 19:23-24. Here is what my argument consisted of: In verse 23 Jesus exclaims how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, and then in verse 24 he goes on to say "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." (Emphasis mine). I postulated that by using the term "again" Jesus made the terms interchangeable, else he would have used the world "also." Of course this argument rests on the reliability of the translation of the Greek word "palin" which it appears could in some cases be translated as "furthermore" instead of "again." However, I am not aware of any translation which uses any word except "again" in this verse. I am pretty sure the translators are smarter than I am and very likely got it right.
The objection I received to my use of this verse to support my case was that one should not build a doctrine on a single verse. I agree completely; thus the study that went into this post. I do have one more argument to offer though, and I believe it to be the strongest one, when taken in conjunction with what I have already presented here. That argument comes from Matthew 8:11 "And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven." Now consider Luke 13:28 which says: " There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out."
The fact that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are said to be in the kingdom of heaven and in the kingdom of God, taken alongside everything else I have presented here, leads me to the inevitable conclusion that those kingdoms are one in the same. One King, One Kingdom.
I am thankful for the "nudging" which I received to search the scriptures for a proper understanding, but I must add that much more than that, I rejoice that I will someday be able to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.