Summary: What does the "Kingdom of Heaven" refer to in the Bible? The phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” within the Gospel of Matthew has been a major concern for early Christians and even New Testament scholars today. Is the "Kingdom of Heaven" a place? Is it in your hea
The phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” within the Gospel of Matthew has been a major concern for early Christians and even New Testament scholars today. “It has been observed that the phrases “the Kingdom,” “the Kingdom of God,” and “the Kingdom of Heaven” are used interchangeably throughout the Gospels. The specific phrase “the Kingdom of Heaven” is confined to only the Gospel of Matthew” (Orr 1805). Matthew preferred a usage that would communicate better in the Pharisaic-type circles in which he was engaging” (Keener 68). “The phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” is found 32 times in the Gospel of Matthew. The phrase “the Kingdom of God” is only found 5 times in Matthew’s Gospel. Out of reverence for the Holy name of the Lord, the Jews would not mention “God,” but would substitute the word “Heaven.” The prodigal son confessed that he had sinned “against Heaven,” meaning, God. In many places where Matthew uses the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven,” the parallel passages in Mark and Luke use “Kingdom of God” (Wiersbe 30). This study will explore the different views of Matthew’s theology of the phrase “the Kingdom of Heaven.”
In earliest Christianity, the Jewish culture was persistent with mixing up the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Pharisees and the scribes, which were the religious leaders, had the tendency to pervert God’s message. They of all people knew the prophesies foretold in the Old Testament about the Messiah’s coming, but rejected Him to His face. “In the New Testament, the word kingdom means “rule, reign, or authority” rather than a place or specific realm. The phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” refers to the rule of God. The Jewish leaders wanted a political leader who would deliver them from Rome, but Jesus came to bring spiritual rule to the hearts of people” (Wiersbe 30). Wiersbe shows us that this Kingdom that is mentioned is Christ’s reign over our lives as believers. The Jews were seeking for earthly deliverance, but Jesus came to offer the ultimate deliverance. This is a deliverance from sin. Their idea of the Messiah was so distorted that they didn’t even realize he’d come. “Jews were continually thinking of earthly kingdom, and on this account rejected our Lord’s spiritual teaching of new sovereignty from Heaven” (Thomas 57). The difference can not better be expressed than by saying, “as is done by B. Weiss, “that He and they laid the accent on different halves of the phrase, they emphasizing “the Kingdom” and He “of Heaven.” They were thinking of the expulsion of the Romans and of a Jewish king and court. He was thinking of righteousness, holiness, and peace, of the doing of the will of God on earth as it is done in Heaven” (Orr 1806). In essence, the will of God is being done on earth through believers as they continue to help people see their desperate need for a Saviour whose name is Jesus Christ. The moment they receive the gift of faith, they enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. “Citizens of the Kingdom had to enter it one by one, not in a body, as the Jews were expecting. Straight was the gate; it was the narrow gate of repentance” (Orr 1807). Jesus wasn’t looking for good behavior, He wanted total surrender and repentance of the heart.
There are some critics today who “maintain that Jesus’ future Kingdom is an unrealistic hope for modern people, label the Kingdom a myth, and translate it into existential language more appropriate for their own academic circles of thought. There position presupposes modern contempt for apocalyptic thought rather than a detailed historical argument” (Keener 70). Craig Keener throws a direct blow at the critics with this statement. Before criticizing something it is best to have a good understanding first. He goes on to argue that “the future Kingdom is hardly irrelevant to the persecuted and the oppressed, who nurture hope that God’s justice will ultimately triumph and vindicate them” (Keener 70). In fact, believers enjoy the Holy Spirit as the “down payment” (1 Cor. 1:22, 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14) of their future hope. “In short, the present significance of the future Kingdom in early Christian teaching was thus that God’s people in the present age were citizens of the coming age, people whose identity by what Jesus had done and what they would be, not by what they had been or by their status in the world” (Keener 69). Within this view there are two aspects of the “Kingdom of Heaven.” Some scholars agree that it is referring to a promise in the far future. In other words, they are looking to the millennial Kingdom. Others hold to the view that the “Kingdom of Heaven” is within your life as soon as you become a believer. Thus, the Kingdom of Heaven is within you. The Bible makes it clear in the Gospel of Luke that this could be the case, “And being asked by the Pharisees, when the Kingdom of God cometh, He answered them and said, The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here! Or, There! For there, the Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20). The follower of Christ is to live in Joy now, for they are already in the Kingdom. Christ is the Kingdom and He tells us to abide in Him and Him in us. “If one examines the total picture of the Gospels, the Kingdom is both present and future, as is widely recognized today” (Keener 69). “The Lord does not want those who receive Him as Saviour and Lord to think that He relegates all blessing to the distant future. There is blessing for us here and now. The kingdom of Heaven or God will be fulfilled in its literal sense in the future, / but it is also in us and among us now. The moment you humble yourself, recognize your unworthiness, and go to the Lord Jesus Christ, He makes you blessed and establishes His eternal rule in you. He becomes your King” (Zodhiates 72, 73). Don’t let the idea of “the Kingdom within you” not look forward to the day when we will see the Father face to face. We are to live in rest and joy now on earth, but God will give us surpassing rest and joy when we are taken up into the sky for our divine meeting. “The King’s throne is no longer in earthly Jerusalem, but in heavenly Mount Zion, from which the King of kings and Lord f lords administers His Kingdom through the Holy Spirit. May God hasten the day when at the name of Jesus Christ every knee will bow and confess that He is Lord and so submit to His rule” (Waltke 11)