Analyzing the Viewpoints: The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven (2)

What is the Kingdom of Heaven? Is the term to be understood differently from the Kingdom of God, or are they essentially synonymous? This and the previous articles relate to this subject, presenting two views for you to carefully consider in coming to your conclusion. This does not imply that the views of these two writers are the only valid interpretations to consider. But while there are shades of differences in other interpretations, these two articles helpfully summarize the thrust of two popular understandings. The purpose of presenting opposing views is not to create controversy, nor to generate the division that marred the church in Corinth (“I am of Paul; and I am of Apollos …” 1Cor 1:12). Neither is it merely for you to assess who formulates a better argument. The purpose is to help you to understand and consider the viewpoints, and to encourage you to study it more deeply yourself in your own time.  Our two writers have read and considered the opposing view and continue to respect one another and enjoy happy fellowship together.

– Matthew Cain

God’s Governmental Rule

Scripture is replete with references emphasizing that God reigns as King over all of His creation. That control is seen in the ordering of celestial bodies, regulation of seasons, and overall control of nations: He “giveth it to whom He will, and setteth up over it the basest of men” (Dan 4:17), and “He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Dan 4:35). God’s Kingdom encompasses every aspect of His creation, including angelic ranks, and every work of His hand. Every other principality and power exists within this sphere of what we might term, “God’s Universal and Eternal Kingdom.”

Universal Kingdom of God

As in other kingdoms of earth, there exist areas in that universal Kingdom of God that God permits to not be in subjection to Him. This does not diminish His sovereignty or deny the existence of that Kingdom. Even in the coming Millennium, sometimes called the “Mediatorial Kingdom,” under the personal rule of our Lord Jesus Christ, there will exist those who are inwardly rebelling against His rule, but who will not dare to express that rebellion until Satan is released (Rev 20:7-9). Therefore, every other kingdom, including the Kingdom of Heaven (as termed in Matthew’s gospel), exists within the realm of the universal Kingdom.

This would help us to understand why there are many references in the gospels that use the same terms when speaking of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven.[1] Within the universal Kingdom of God there are presently those who outwardly confess Him and take the position of being identified with His authority, even if they are not genuinely saved. This is the Kingdom of Heaven. Quoting Hogg and Vine, (Epistles to the Thessalonians), “The Kingdom of Heaven is limited to the kingdom in its earthly aspect for the time being, and is used only dispensationally and in connection with Israel. The Kingdom of Heaven is always the Kingdom of God, but the Kingdom of God is not limited to the Kingdom of Heaven, until in their final form, they become identical (e.g., Rev 11:15, RV).”

Kingdom of God Spiritually

Scriptures indicate that there is an aspect of the Kingdom of God one enters only by a spiritual work in one’s soul. These have been born again (John 3:3, 5), and have allowed nothing to hinder them from entering (Mark 9:47). They recognize the presence and authority of the King (Luke 17:20-21), and have responded to the gospel (Acts 8:12). When the power of God was manifested and the King was among the people, then the Kingdom of God had come nigh (Luke 10:9, 11:20). This would be the aspect of the Kingdom that is composed of those who are saved and who have been made true “children of the Kingdom” (Matt 13:38). Again, Hogg and Vine say, “In the Kingdom of God, in its broader aspect, God is in antithesis to ‘man’ or ‘the world’ and the term signifies the entire sphere of God’s rule and action in relation to the world. It has a moral and spiritual force and is a general term for the Kingdom at any time.”

Future Earthly Kingdom

It seems that the present state of the Kingdom in its earthly aspect will eventually give way to the Millennial, or Manifested Kingdom of God on earth, when Christ returns to “gather out of His Kingdom all things that offend” (Matt 13:41) and put down all rule and authority by the exercise of His invincible power (1Cor 15:24). When that perfect rule of Christ on the earth will have run its course, that kingdom will be “delivered up unto God” (1Cor 15:24) and the day of God will begin (2Peter 3:12-13), which takes us into eternity.

Kingdom of Heaven

However, the present state of those things on earth that profess to belong to Christ can be described under the heading of “Kingdom of Heaven,” and it is the condition existing during the absence of the King. The setting of the parables of the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 13 follows the developing rejection of the King and His authority in the previous chapters. Christ came to the nation that should have received Him, and displayed to them the evidence of His official right to rule, and His personal, moral right to establish a kingdom of righteousness. But they deliberately and repeatedly determined to rid themselves of His presence. Against that background, the Lord began to reveal to His disciples the character of the period which will exist during that rejection, and which will continue until the establishment of the earthly kingdom into which the righteous will enter (Matt 13:43, etc.).

This period is characterized by two types of activities: God’s work and the devil’s opposition. It includes the sowing of the Seed with different degrees of reception, with the false in the midst of the genuine; the establishment of truth, but the tolerance of moral evil, and the introduction of doctrinal evil. It is also marked by an ongoing work of purchasing and possessing, out of Israel and the Gentiles, treasured and valuable possessions which will be revealed in their perfect, completed condition when the Kingdom of Heaven has run its course. The parables of this chapter go beyond the rapture, since they terminate in the separation of evil from righteous at the end of the age, with the righteous being gathered in to enjoy the sovereign rule of the King.

We could say that the Kingdom of Heaven exists within the sphere of the entire Kingdom of God, since it is under His control, but that there are areas of the Kingdom of Heaven that are not within the sphere of the “spiritual” aspect of the Kingdom of God, since it includes those who are not born again, and who only render outward allegiance to heaven’s authority.

[1] Matt 4:17 (Mark 1:14-15), Matt 8:11 (Luke 13:28-29), Matt 11:11 (Luke 7:28), Matt 11:12 (Luke 16:16), Matt 3:31 (Mark 4:30-32, Luke 13:18-19), Matt 13:33 (Luke 13:20-21), Matt 18:3-4, 19:13-14 (Mark 10:14-15, Luke 18:15), Matt 19:23-26 (Mark 10:23-27, Luke 18:24).