What is the Kingdom of Heaven, and is it the same as the Kingdom of God?
“Kingdom of Heaven” is how Jews in the time of Jesus said “Kingdom of God”. Luke writes to gentiles and helps them understand what Kingdom of Heaven means by translating it: “Kingdom of God”.
So what is the Kingdom of Heaven (God)?
Kingdom is where a King rules. Kingdom of God is where God rules. That is what John the Baptizer, and Jesus, where trying to get people to realize. They said REPENT (turn your thinking around)! God IS ruling (the Kingdom of Heaven) is at hand (hear and now). Paul did the same thing with the folks in Athens when he explained that we don’t feed and care for God, God cares for us. In HIM we live and move and have our being. He is ruling even when we can’t (or won’t) see it and believe it. That is why LORD is linked with Jesus well over 100 times and SAVIOR is linked with Jesus about a dozen times in the New Testament. We sometimes get confused as if Jesus is the SAVIOR who can become our Lord. The New Testament thinking is that Jesus is LORD who can become our savior.
So what does Jesus mean” for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”?
If kingdom of heaven is the rule of God, how does that relate to the idea of “going to heaven”?
The words for heaven are the same as the words for sky, air, space. They are the beyond the immediately physically. Really? Isn’t heaven where God lives and Hell where the devil lives? Not exactly. The fallen spirits are surprisingly active in ‘heaven/the heavens/the heavenly places’. Heaven shows up 6 dozen times in the ESV translation, in Matthew alone! Heaven is mentioned another 200 times in the New Testament. It includes some of the ideas we have of ‘a place up there with God and people who die in relationship with God’, but it means more than that. Consider:
A lying angel from heaven: Gal 1:8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
Ephesians 3:8-10 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, (9) and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, (10) so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 6:11-12 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (12) For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
The point is that ‘heaven’ is not as simple as we have often taken it to be. It is a reality that is currently all about us and most closely associated with the mysteries that stretch out endlessly as we look up into the night sky; but it is more than that, too.
So is there really a sense of ‘heaven’ as in “go to heaven when you die” and does that have anything to do with what Jesus is talking about when he says the kingdom of heaven?
Hebrews 12:22-29 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, (23) and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made complete, (24) and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (25) See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. (26) At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” (27) This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken–that is, things that have been made–in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. (28) Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, (29) for our God is a consuming fire.
The kingdom of heaven, or if we lack Jewish understanding, the kingdom of God, is defined as where and when God is in charge. Could that be right here, right now AND eventually there and then? Yes. The problem is that we can’t get a good look around us.
1 Corinthians 13:9-12 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, (10) but when the complete comes, the partial will pass away. (11) When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (12) For now we see in a polished metal mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
The fact is that we cannot see the whole thing clearly, so we need to focus on the part we are told to pay attention to. What part is that? We are to be actively living with God in charge of providing righteousness as a gift by which we are adopted and the grace to live out the rightness of his ways such that our actual habit of living, our character, is righteous. We are to acknowledge by thought, word and deed that God is in charge here and there, now and then; that is the blessed life.