What is the difference between the kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of God?
Briefly and simply put, my understanding is that for the most part there isn’t any difference between the two expressions. To me it is evident from places such as Matthew 4:17 and Mark 1:14-15 , (where both accounts are describing the commencement of the Lord’s public preaching following John the Baptist being put into prison), that as set forth in the Gospel accounts the Lord Himself used both of the expressions “the kingdom of God” and “the kingdom of heaven” in the same contexts, and He did so interchangeably or with the recognition that they have the same understanding and meaning. And to me it is only natural that the two expressions would have the same meaning and/or be descriptive of the same thing in view of what they are referring to.
As Mark 1:14–15 makes evident, the preaching of “the gospel of the kingdom of God” is the preaching in God’s program with Israel that a particular “time is fulfilled,” and that in connection with this being the case the time therefore had arrived in their program when “the kingdom of God” was now “at hand.” Therefore “the kingdom of God” being spoken about was connected with a particular time schedule that God had previously given to Israel, and now that that particular time schedule was “fulfilled,” as the Lord declared, the “kingdom of God” was being preached to Israel as being “at hand.” The “kingdom of God/kingdom of heaven” was no longer a long ways off on that time schedule, but rather it was now “at hand.” The particular time schedule in question was given to Israel by God through the prophet Daniel, and it was part of a the revelation package of doctrine and prophecy that God gave them through Daniel regarding the final stages of the outworking of His program with them.
In the first part of Daniel’s 5 part package of doctrine and prophecy, God gave a description for the establishing of His kingdom on this earth that provides for it to be described as, or denoted as, either “the kingdom of God” or “the kingdom of heaven.” As is set forth in Daniel 2:44, God had Daniel say, “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.”
Since God describes Himself as “the God of heaven” Who shall “set up a kingdom,” it is clear to me that that kingdom can be denoted as either “the kingdom of God” or “the kingdom of heaven.” Both are appropriate, fitting, and correct designations for the kingdom that God has purposed to establish on this earth through His nation Israel and in the land that He gave to Abraham and his seed for this purpose.
And in accordance with the progressive outworking of the time schedule that God gave to Daniel in the fourth part of the package of doctrine and prophecy, the “time” indeed was “fulfilled” when the Lord was on the earth in Israel. The time indeed had come for “the kingdom of God/kingdom of heaven” to begin to be preached to Israel as “at hand.” For the establishment of God’s kingdom on the earth was no longer far off on that time schedule, but it was “at hand.”
Once again in view of the nature of the establishment of God’s kingdom on this earth as set forth in God’s program with Israel, my understanding is that the designations “the kingdom of God” and “the kingdom of heaven” in the
Gospel accounts refer to the same thing; to the issue of God’s kingdom on this earth in accordance with, and in fulfillment of His original design and purpose for the earth in the first place.
Of course God has now temporarily suspended His program with Israel, putting the establishment of His kingdom on the earth in abeyance for now, and has brought in this present dispensation of Gentile grace in which we live today, just as we are taught to understand and as we learn about through the Apostle Paul. And in connection with this we also now learn through Paul’s epistles that the establishment of God’s kingdom through Christ is going to encompass more than God had originally said it would. It is going to involve more than just the establishment of God’s kingdom on this earth through and in Israel. To Paul God revealed “the mystery of Christ,” which before revealing it to him it was something He had “kept secret since the world began.” And in the revelation of “the mystery of Christ” we are now given to understand that God is going to establish the rule of His kingdom in the heavenly places as well, (not just on the earth), and that in view of this He is now forming His “new creature,” the “one new man,” the church the body of Christ for that very purpose.
Hence in Paul’s epistles to us and about us in this present dispensation of God’s grace to the Gentiles we have God talking to us about “the kingdom of God” as well. However He does so in the light of “the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery” and therefore in view of the fact that it is the heavenly places aspect of God’s kingdom with which we have to do. For example, for this reason we find Paul saying to us in I Corinthians 15:50, “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” As ones who have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as our all-sufficient Savior in this present dispensation, we are the members of God’s “new creature,” the “one new man,” the church the body of Christ; and as such we are going to “inherit the kingdom of God.” But because the particular aspect of God’s kingdom that we are heirs of is the aspect that pertains to the heavenly places, (just as the revelation of “the mystery of Christ” says), our present “flesh and blood” bodies need to be changed so that they are fit to reside and function in the heavenly places.
Our present “flesh and blood” bodies “cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” e aspect of God’s kingdom to which our purpose “in Christ” pertains is the heavenly aspect of it. Therefore our present “flesh and blood” bodies will be changed at the end of this dispensation and “we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” so that we can reside and function in the heavenly places; in the heavenly places aspect of “the kingdom of God.”
Once again, briefly and simply put that’s the gist of my understanding.
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