Heaven vs the Kingdom of Heaven
It is a common error in the Church to teach that “heaven” and the “kingdom of heaven” are one and the same. There are several reasons for this error. One is the failure of Christians to study their Bibles, and to accept instead the traditional teachings of the Church. The reason for this error in traditions is the failure of teachers and preachers to understand the difference between the literal and figurative meaning of words used in the Bible, and the principles for applying the appropriate meaning. For example, one Hermeneutical principle is that a word should always be taken literally, unless it makes no sense when taken literally. Literally, “kingdom of heaven” means a literal government of heaven over the earth. When the Bible talks about the government of the earth being on the shoulders of Jesus, it means it. Christians who do not understand the literal meaning of “kingdom of heaven” transfer this error to their understanding of the “word of the kingdom”, as explained in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13). The “word of the kingdom” is speaking of the teaching about the coming government of Jesus Christ over the earth. Neither of these phrases is addressing the place called heaven. They are both addressing the coming government of Jesus Christ over the earth, and those Christians who will qualify to reign and rule with Jesus Christ. This misunderstanding of the literal meaning of these two phrases has resulted in millions of Christians having no understanding of the “kingdom of heaven” or the “word of the kingdom”.
The typical Christian in the Church today thinks that the “kingdom of heaven” is simply heaven, and the “word of the kingdom” is simply the teaching about heaven. The purpose of this article is to correct this misunderstanding among a few Christians, and to bring them into the fourth group of Christians represented by the “seed” sown on the good ground, in accordance with the following verse:
(Matt. 13:23) But he that was sown in the good ground is he that hears and understands the word of the kingdom. He produces fruit now bearing a hundredfold, sixtyfold, thirtyfold.
Basic Definitions of “Kingdom of Heaven” & “Word of the Kingdom”:
The “kingdom of heaven” is simply the theocratic government that God will set up on the earth with Jesus Christ as the king. The kingdom of heaven is future, and will be established at the return of Jesus Christ in power and glory at the end of the seven-year tribulation period. It is the kingdom that we pray for when we pray in the Lord’s prayer “Thy kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
The word kingdom comes from the phrase “king’s dominion”, and refers to the reign and rule of a king over his subjects. A simple way to understand the phrase “kingdom of heaven” is to substitute the word “government” in place of “kingdom’. The following is the Greek word for kingdom from Thayer’s Greek Lexicon:
1) royal power, kingship, dominion, rule
a) not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the
right or authority to rule over a kingdom
b) used of the royal power of Jesus as the triumphant Messiah
c) used of the royal power and dignity conferred on Christians in the Messiah's kingdom
2) a kingdom, the territory subject to the rule of a king
3) used in the New Testament to refer to the reign of the Messiah
It is important to note definition 2 above, which is the figurative definition. If kingdom were used figuratively, then it would be referring to earth and not heaven, since the territory that Jesus rules over in the coming kingdom would be the earth. This is why the phrase “kingdom of heaven” can never refer to heaven in the Scriptures. It is either speaking of the government of heaven over the earth (literal), or the territory (i.e., the earth) over which the government of heaven will reign (figurative).
The “word of the kingdom” in the parable of the sower is simply the teaching about the coming kingdom (i.e., government) of Jesus Christ and the necessary qualifications for entrance into that government. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 summarizes the necessary qualifications for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Please read my exegetical discourse on the Sermon on the Mount for a clear understanding of these qualifications. Simply stated, the requirement is practical righteousness through holy living. The imputed righteousness of Christ gets one into heaven, but practical righteousness gets one into the kingdom of heaven. This is very clear in the Scriptures.
The primary Old Testament Scripture addressing the coming millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ is as follows:
(Dan 2:44 KJV) And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.
Jesus Christ uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” to refer to this kingdom that will be set up by the God of heaven. This phrase refers to the rule and reign of the heavens over the earth. It is in reference to a position of authority for a king and his appointed rulers. The kingdom of heaven is not a place, but a sphere of authority. Heaven is a place, but the kingdom of heaven points to a sovereign ruler and his appointed rulers. Jesus Christ will be the ruler and those in the Church who qualify for these positions will reign with him from the heavens when his kingdom is established.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee attempted to assure themselves the highest positions in this coming kingdom in the following passage, but Jesus gently rebuked them and told them that the highest positions in the kingdom required the greatest suffering. There is no doubt that James and John, sons of Zebedee will enter the kingdom of heaven, but it is doubtful if they will occupy the two highest positions in this kingdom.
(Mat 20:20 KJV) Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.
(Mat 20:21 KJV) And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.
(Mat 20:22 KJV) But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.
(Mat 20:23 KJV) And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.
Both sons of Zebedee did drink of the cup that Jesus drank, since they suffered death as martyrs. Both would have certainly qualified for entrance into the kingdom of heaven, but it is a certainty that their attitudes were much different at the end of their lives than in the above passage of Scripture.
The phrase “kingdom of heaven” is used 32 times in the KJV Bible in 31 verses, and it is never used in reference to the place called heaven. The phrase is used 8 times in Matthew 13 in the description of the mystery aspect of the kingdom of heaven. The mystery aspect of the kingdom of heaven is the current Church Age when believers are qualifying for positions in the coming kingdom of heaven. Please read Seven Parables of the Kingdom for an understanding of The Kingdom of Heaven.
The mystery aspect of the kingdom is the time when the king is away, and it is the time when the “word of the kingdom” is being taught by select disciples. We know from the parable of the sower that only one group in four of Christians hears and understands the “word of the kingdom” and wind up bearing fruit.
One group of Christians hears the word of the kingdom, but does not understand it. This is probably the majority of the Church in this age. The second group hears and understands the word of the kingdom, but is not strongly versed in its teachings and falls away from the teaching because of persecution. The third group hears and understands the “word of the kingdom”, but gets caught up in the cares of this world and becomes unfruitful. Only one group hears and understands the “word of the kingdom” and goes on the bear much fruit, in spite of the persecution that goes along with the teaching of the “word of the kingdom”. This group also does not get caught up in the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches.
Many times in the Scriptures the kingdom of heaven is called the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God includes the kingdom of heaven, but the kingdom of God is a broader term, which includes three primary aspects. Please read Kingdom of God for a detailed explanation of these three aspects. The kingdom of heaven is the third aspect of the kingdom of God.
Three Aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven
Just as there are three aspects to the kingdom of God with the third aspect being the kingdom of heaven, there are also three aspects to the kingdom of heaven. The first aspect has already been alluded to in a general fashion, and it is called the mystery aspect of the kingdom of heaven. The name for this aspect comes from Jesus who taught the parables of the kingdom, and told his disciples that it was given unto them to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but it was not given to the Pharisees and the Sadducees to understand these mysteries.
The Pharisees and Sadducees sat in Moses seat, and they had led the nation of Israel down the wrong path of ritualism, traditionalism, and rationalism. The Pharisees added their ritualism and traditionalism to the Scriptures, and the Sadducees freely removed the parts of Scripture that they disliked. Because of their rejection of Jesus Christ, they shut the kingdom of heaven up from the Jews as a nation and the kingdom was removed from the nation of Israel and given to a new nation that would bring forth fruit. The following Scriptures addresses this sequence of events:
(Mat 23:13 KJV) But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
(Mat 21:43 KJV) Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you (i.e., nation of Israel), and given to a nation (i.e., the Church) bringing forth the fruits thereof.
As stated already, the mystery aspect of the kingdom pertains to the current period of time between the First Coming of Jesus and the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of the tribulation period. According to the seven parables of the kingdom, the mystery aspect will even continue through the seven-year tribulation period, when Jews and Gentiles outside of the Church Age will qualify for entrance into the earthly aspect of the kingdom of heaven. The earthly aspect of the kingdom is the second aspect of the kingdom of heaven. The earthly aspect pertains to Jews and Gentiles who will enter into the earthly aspect of the kingdom of heaven. They will reign and rule upon the earth in bodies of flesh and blood during the millennial kingdom.
The third aspect of the kingdom of heaven is the heavenly aspect, and refers to those in the Church who will qualify during the mystery aspect of the kingdom to reign and rule with Jesus Christ in the heavenly aspect of the kingdom.
In the seven parables of the kingdom, the pearl of great price pertains to the Church striving for the heavenly aspect. The hidden treasure refers to Israel hidden in the earth who will still qualify for the earthly aspect of the kingdom. The cast net refers to the Gentiles in the last half of the tribulation period who qualify for the earthly aspect because of the way they treat the brethren (i.e., Jews) of Jesus in the time of Jacob’s trouble.