I have stated several times in my messages that I believe that the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” and the phrase “the kingdom of God” mean the exact same thing. That is, that there is no difference between these two kingdoms, and that the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven are identical in every respect.

Now I know that this is not the opinion of all. Many have tried to make a distinction between these two kingdoms. The distinction that is usually made is that the kingdom of heaven is limited in scope, and has to do with Israel and with God reigning upon the earth. The kingdom of God, it is argued on the other hand, is universal in scope, and has to do with God’s sovereignty over all peoples, all realms, and all of time and space.

Now this distinction might be insisted upon by many. They accuse those of us who believe that these two kingdoms are the same thing of emphasizing the similarities and ignoring the differences between these two kingdoms. Because it is the sincere desire of my heart to rightly divide the Word of truth, I certainly do not want to be guilty ever of ignoring obvious differences between things while emphasizing similarities. Yet I do not believe that any such obvious differences exist. These two kingdoms are, in fact, the exact same thing.

The word “heaven” can be used as an alternate name for God. I believe that that is how it is used in the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven.” The word “heaven” itself in English comes from our verb “to heave.” That which is heaved up, that is, lifted up above those things around it, might be called “heaven.” The word “heaven” used to be used for a platform above a stage, for example. The ceiling of a room could be called its “heaven.” The sky that holds clouds and in which the birds fly might be called “heaven,” due to its location up above the earth. The solar system, wherein reside the sun, moon, and planets, might be called “heaven” from our vantage point upon the earth, for these things seem lifted high up above us. The stars, too, in their far-flung locations, might be said to be in “heaven.”

Yet the word “heaven” can also have to do, not with physical location, but rather with exaltation. I do not know if the place called heaven where God dwells and has His throne is above us or not. There seems to be some evidence that heaven might be in the northern sky. I am referring to Psalm 75:6-7.

6. For exaltation comes neither from the east Nor from the west nor from the south.
7. But God is the Judge: He puts down one, And exalts another.

Verse 6 tells us that exaltation does not come from the east, west, or south. Yet notice that it does not mention the north. Can it be that heaven, the throne of God Who is the Judge, is in the north? I do not know, and I do not think there is enough evidence here to decide that heaven is a planet circling the north star, like some have decided is true. Yet I do know that there is an exalted place called “heaven” where dwell many of God’s exalted races, like angels and cherubs, and where God’s throne is currently situated. I know that this place may be above us, and it may be in the north. Yet if this was so, it would not be “above” all of us, for it would actually be below one dwelling far south of the equator. Yet there is no doubt that, at this present time, that place is exalted far above the earth, since it is the dwelling place of our Lord Jesus Christ, and since His throne is there. So this heaven is definitely a place that is exalted.

But men can also be exalted above others. For example, Colossians 1:23 reads,

23. If indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Now if there is one thing that is clear, it is that the gospel was not literally preached to every creature under heaven. Certainly, we have no record of any apostle trying to preach to birds, rats, or oxen. And even every human creature could hardly be meant, for it seems far-fetched to suggest that the gospel was preached, for example, in the Americas at this time. Some have taken this to mean this, but I do not believe that this could be so. Even the apostle Paul’s policy was to preach to Jews first, and there were no Jews in America to preach to.

The truth is that the word that is translated “creature” in the New King James should be translated “creation.” This is not referring to God’s creation, either, but man’s. Men have many creations. For example, once when I was riding in a boat on Lake Superior, the captain of the boat announced to us at one point in the ride that we had just passed over the “dotted line” that ran along the bottom of the lake between Minnesota and Wisconsin, and that we were now in a new state. Of course, he was speaking facetiously, for no such dotted line exists. There is no natural reason, either, for dissecting Lake Superior in this way. The fact is that this line is a creation of men, just as the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin are creations of men.

Now this verse, I believe, is speaking of the creations of men that are under heaven. These creations involve things like cities, countries, regions, and districts. It was in these that the gospel had been preached. And, we read, it had been preached in all of these that were under heaven. But what, or who, is heaven in this case? Had the gospel really been preached in the Americas? For certainly there were creations of men even here at that time. No, I do not believe so. For the word “heaven” here means, I believe, “the exalted one.” In this case, it does not refer to God, but rather to the one who was exalted over the world from which Paul was writing: the world of the Roman Empire. In other words, “heaven” here meant Caesar, and the Holy Spirit through Paul was saying that the gospel had been preached in every place that men dwelt under Caesar at that time. It had reached all these places, and all the children of Israel had heard it no matter where they dwelt, as Romans 10:18-19 tells us.

18 But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: 
“ Their sound has gone out to all the earth,
And their words to the ends of the world.” 
19. But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says: 
“I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation,
I will move you to anger by a foolish nation.”

So the word “heaven” can refer to a man or men who are exalted. But there can be no doubt that it can also refer to God, the One Who above all others is exalted. An examination of the book of Daniel chapter 4 clearly demonstrates this. There, we read, in Daniel 4:17:

17. This decision is by the decree of the watchers, 
And the sentence by the word of the holy ones, 
In order that the living may know 
That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, 
Gives it to whomever He will, 
And sets over it the lowest of men.

So here we read that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men. The same thing is stated in Daniel 4:25.

25. They shall drive you from men, your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.

Then, in Daniel 4:26, we read something very similar in slightly different words.

26. And inasmuch as they gave the command to leave the stump and roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be assured to you, after you come to know that Heaven rules.

So, in verse 25, Daniel assured Nebuchadnezzar that he would come to know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men. Now here, in Daniel 4:26, Daniel assures Nebuchadnezzar that he would come to know that Heaven rules. Can there be any doubt that these two verses mean the same thing?

Now, Daniel 4:32 repeats the same idea one last time.

32 And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.”

So these verses, when considered together, show us that the word “Heaven” can be used as another name for God, the great One Who rules there. “The Most High” and “Heaven” are used interchangeably here. And this should not surprise us, since we use “heaven” even today as a substitute for the name of God. For what do we mean when we say, “Heaven help us,” but that we want God to help us? What can we mean when we say, “Heaven only knows,” but that God only knows? This figure of speech is not unfamiliar to us, and it should not surprise us when we find the same thing in the Scriptures.

Now that there is no difference between the concepts of the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God in the gospels can, I believe, be established by examining the various passages where these two phrases occur. Let us go through some of these passages, starting off in Matthew 4:17.

17. From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Here, we read that the Lord preached the kingdom of heaven. However, in the parallel passage in Mark 1:14-15, we read:

14. Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15. and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

So here, it is written that the Lord preached the kingdom of God. So we have to ask ourselves, did the Lord preach two different things here? In Matthew, was He preaching one kingdom, and in Mark, was He preaching another? Were these two different kingdoms, or were they, in fact, the same?

We come upon a similar pair of parallel passages, starting with Matthew 5:3.

3. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, 
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

In this passage, we read that the poor in spirit receive the kingdom of heaven. However, in Luke 6:20, we read:

20. Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said: 
“Blessed are you poor,
For yours is the kingdom of God.”

So here the poor receive the kingdom of God. Do the poor in spirit receive a different kingdom in Matthew than the poor do in Luke? Or are these kingdoms the same thing?

Some would like to suggest that the difference is maintained between these two, by suggesting that, since the kingdom of heaven is a smaller sphere that operates under the kingdom of God, that what is said of one can also be said of the other. Thus, they say, we cannot point to these parallel passages as proving these things are the same, because what is true of the greater must also be true of the lesser.

Yet let us compare this to another example to see if it bears out. Suppose I were to say, “the mountains in America are covered by snow this time of year.” Then, suppose I were to say, “the mountains in Colorado are covered by snow this time of year.” Is it not clear that I have said two very different things? For the mountains in Colorado might well be covered with snow, and other mountains in America might not be. Saying that the mountains in America are covered by snow is clearly saying much more than merely that the mountains in Colorado are covered by snow. It is clear that, depending upon the situation, one or the other of these statements must be more accurate. The question then would be which?

The same, I believe, is true of this matter of the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God. If the kingdom of heaven is a part of the kingdom of God, then which statement is more accurate? Will the poor in spirit receive the kingdom of heaven only, or will they receive the entire kingdom of God? Which statement is more accurate? For one or the other must be true, if the kingdom of heaven is just one part of the kingdom of God. But if these two are the same, then there is no difficulty.

Let us move on to another passage. In Matthew 8:11, we read:

11. And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.

So Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be in the kingdom of heaven. But in Luke 13:28, we read:

28. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.

So, will Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets be in the kingdom of God, or in the kingdom of heaven? Which of these statements is more accurate? Will the patriarchs be in two different places? Or are these two verses saying the same thing?

Then, in Matthew 10:7, the Lord is giving instructions to His twelve disciples when He sent them out.

7. “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

So in Matthew, the twelve were to preach the kingdom of heaven. Yet in Luke 9:2, we read:

2. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

So here, the twelve were to preach the kingdom of God. Which of these is more accurate? Which of these were the twelve supposed to preach? Were they supposed to preach two different things? Or are these the same?

In Matthew 11:11, the Lord makes the statement,

11. “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

So the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist. Yet, in Luke 7:28, we read:

28. “For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

So will these “least” be in two different places? Will one set be in the kingdom of heaven, and the other in the kingdom of God? Or which statement is more accurate, if one is but a subset of the other?

Now the Lord states of the disciples in Matthew 13:11:

11. He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.

So the disciples were given the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. But in Mark 4:11, we read:

11. And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables.”

And, in Luke 8:10, we find that:

10. And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that 
‘Seeing they may not see,
And hearing they may not understand.’

So were the disciples given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, or were they given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God? Or were the disciples given to know two different sets of mysteries? What is true here, if these two are not the same?

In Matthew 13:33, the kingdom of heaven is compared to leaven.

33. Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”

Yet in Luke 13:20-21, the kingdom of God is compared to leaven.

20. And again He said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? 21. It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”

So are these parables about two different things? Or are they speaking of the same kingdom?

Once we have examined all these passages, it seems clear that the most likely scenario we can come up with to explain them is not that the kingdom of heaven is a special subject spoken of only in Matthew, whereas the kingdom of God is a more general term used many other places. Rather, what does seem most likely is that these two phrases speak of the exact same thing. And I believe we can confirm this by looking at Matthew 19:23-24, where both phrases are used.

23. Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

We see here that the terms “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” are used interchangeably! The Lord is telling the same truth, and He states it two different ways. In the first, He uses the phrase, “kingdom of heaven,” and in the second, “kingdom of God.” It is most clear that only one truth is stated here, not two. The Lord is not telling us that the rich man will have difficulty entering one kingdom called “the kingdom of heaven,” and he will also have difficulty entering another kingdom, called “the kingdom of God.” Rather, He is saying the same thing in both statements. There is one government that the rich man will have difficulty entering, not two. These two phrases are interchangeable.

This offers us proof that, I believe, should be convincing. Yet if any will still argue that the kingdom of heaven is earthly and limited, while the kingdom of God is universal and speaks of God’s sovereignty over all time and space, then we would ask the question, “Why does only Matthew teach about the kingdom of heaven?” For this is the only gospel, indeed, the only book in the Bible (unless you count Paul’s reference to a “heavenly kingdom,”) that speaks of the kingdom of heaven. If this is a separate truth from that of the “kingdom of God,” if it contains important truth that the kingdom of God does not, then why would only Matthew have anything to say about it? Why would no other New Testament author speak of this important kingdom? These questions, I believe, have no good answer.

So why then did Matthew use the phrase “kingdom of heaven” in the majority of cases rather than the phrase the other authors used, the “kingdom of God”? I believe to get the answer to this, we have to go back to the purpose for which Matthew was written. I believe that Matthew was written to set forth the Lord Jesus Christ as Israel’s true King, and as such, that Matthew was written to Jews. Now the Jews had a tradition that they did not like to say the name of God. They took the command, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain,” (Exodus 20:7,) and decided that, if they never spoke the name of God, they could never take it in vain. Thus, they all but stopped speaking God’s name altogether, often coming up with something to substitute for it. Of course, this is rather silly, for taking God’s name in vain spoke of respecting His name, and that could as easily be done (or not done) with a substitute as it could be with His actual name. Yet this was their tradition. And this is still true of many of the Jews today. I have even seen some Jewish writers who will write “G_d” instead of “God.” This all stems back to their aversion to even saying the name, lest they take it in vain.

So, in attempting to avoid saying God’s name, “heaven” became a substitute. This makes sense, since it is the place where God dwells, and can speak of the Exalted One Who rules there. So heaven was a commonly used substitute for the name of God. And we still sometimes use it this way. In the phrases, “Heaven help us,” or “Heaven only knows,” we are actually speaking of God, “God help us,” or “God only knows,” but we use the word “heaven” in the place of God’s name.

I believe that this is why Matthew uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” instead of “kingdom of God.” He was writing to Jews, and, in deference to their reluctance to say the name of God, he would use the common substitutionary phrase, “kingdom of heaven.” Mark and Luke, however, were not writing to an audience with the same aversion to using God’s name, and so they would rather use the phrase that spoke of what this really meant, “kingdom of God.”

So, in conclusion, I do not believe that there is any good evidence that there is a difference between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God. These two phrases are speaking of the exact same kingdom, the exact same government. Matthew only uses the phrase, “kingdom of heaven,” because he was writing to Jews who were reluctant to say the name of God. But this phrase meant nothing different than the phrase “kingdom of God” that Mark, Luke, and the other New Testament authors used. These two kingdoms are the same thing!

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