Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven?
While it is widely recognized that the most pervasive subject in the teaching and preaching of Jesus Christ was the Kingdom of God, there has been some disagreement as to what that phrase means. The organization to which I belonged taught that the Kingdom of God was over all, while the Kingdom of Heaven referred to the personal presence of the king from heaven (Jesus Christ) on earth. Indeed, there are verses in the Old Testament that state that God's kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and is over all (such as I Chronicles 29:11,12; Psalm 22:28; 103:19; 145:13; Daniel 4:3). But there are specific descriptions, especially in the Prophets and in the Gospels, of the Messiah reigning on earth. According to the theory I was taught, the Kingdom of Heaven started when Jesus began his public ministry, and will again be reinstated when he returns to reign, as described in the Book of Revelation. In the meantime, it is "held in abeyance" during this Church age, when a new aspect of God's plan has been revealed.
I began to realize that my understanding of the Kingdom of God was sorely lacking when it was pointed out to me that the two phrases "Kingdom of God" and "Kingdom of Heaven" were synonymous. Consider the following verses:
The same statement, in two different gospels, is worded two different ways. Here are two more:
Again, two different ways are used to say the same thing. The Gospel of Matthew is the only one that uses the phrase "kingdom of heaven." The other Gospel writers always use "kingdom of God." One is literal, the other figurative. Both refer to the same thing. Consider the preaching of John the Baptist.
What John the Baptist preached is called "the kingdom of God" in Luke, and "the kingdom of heaven" in Matthew. Did John preach two different gospels? Jesus' call to repentance also uses different phrases in Matthew and Mark.
Did Jesus preach two different gospels? When he sent out the twelve, what were they told to preach?
Again, did they preach two different gospels? It is called by different names, but only one gospel is meant.
There are a number of instances in which the same thing is said, using one phrase in Matthew and another in the other gospels. Compare Matthew 13:11 with Mark 4:11 and Luke 8:10. Compare Matthew 13:31 with Mark 4:30,31 and Luke 13:18,19. Also Matthew 13:33 with Luke 13:20,21; and Matthew 19:14 with Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16. There is even a passage in Matthew in which both "kingdom of heaven" and "kingdom of God" are used.
But the parallel records in Mark and Luke use only "kingdom of God" in both sentences.
As you can see, the phrases "Kingdom of God" and "Kingdom of Heaven" are synonymous. It is so obvious that I am amazed and somewhat ashamed that I never saw it in my many years of supposed Biblical research!
So you may ask, what did Jesus actually say – "kingdom of heaven" or "kingdom of God"? Some people might even consider it a contradiction. But the gospels do not record a verbatim word for word quotation of the words of Jesus Christ, or of anyone else for that matter. God is interested in conveying the meaning that He wants people to understand. Biblical research which focuses on minutely detailed word studies often miss the point of what's being communicated.
There is no indication in any of the words of Jesus that there is a distinction between "kingdom of God" and "kingdom of heaven". The two terms are synonymous. "Kingdom of God" is the literal term for what Jesus preached, while "kingdom of heaven" is a figurative way of saying the same thing. It is figurative because "heaven" is put for "God" who dwells there.
The heavens do not literally rule, but refer figuratively to God who dwells there. In the parable commonly known as "the prodigal son" recorded in Luke 15, the son says that he sinned against heaven.
He did not literally sin against heaven, but against God. This is a common figure of speech in Hebrew culture. Things from God are frequently said to be "from heaven" or "heavenly". The kingdom of God is called a "heavenly kingdom" in II Timothy 4:18, because it is from God in heaven. "Kingdom of God" and "Kingdom of heaven" are two different ways of saying the same thing.