The difference between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven
Casual reading of the scripture may cause one to believe that the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God is the same thing, since Jesus seems to use them almost interchangeably. Careful examination shows however that there are two different Kingdoms that are being referenced here. There is too much scripture to expound in one teaching of the subject, for instance Jesus references the two Kingdoms over 50 times in Matthew alone. Here we wish just to outline the main points for the purposes of further study and so that a clear distinction will remain clear in our minds. The Kingdom of Heaven referes to the physical Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of God refers to a spiritual Kingdom accessed through the hearts of believers.
The Kingdom of Heaven
The kingdom of Heaven is a Spiritual Kingdom with an Earthly expression; it refers to the Kingdom that Jesus will rule for a thousand years upon the earth, where His temple shall be in Jerusalem, and the Jewish people shall be restored full to God.
Our first reference may seem a bit vague, but it is very insightful: Matthew 5:35 And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. (NLT)
Jerusalem is the city of the Great King, and where there is a King there is a Kingdom. Who is the great King being referred to here? There are again many scriptures to cross reference but let us just mention one:
The Great King Here is mentioned here synonymously with God. We know that God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit are unlikely to take up residence as Kings in Jerusalem, because their glory would be certainly incompatible with that sort of a manifestation. Jesus Christ however has the ability to hide His glory and appear to us as a man. An earthly kingdom must be ruled by an earthly man, more specifically a Jewish man. The beginnings of the gospels show the lineage of Jesus Christ to show that He is the rightful heir of the Kingdom and the root of David the king. Time would fail us to expound perfectly, but the Jews were promised an earthly kingdom that would be everlasting. It is concerning this Kingdom that the disciples of Jesus Christ asked Him saying:
“”When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
(Acts 1:6-8 KJV)
There is a spiritual Kingdom of Heaven to be established, pertaining specifically to Israel and Jewish people, of which we shall only enjoy fully when the Jews are restored and they have received Jesus as their Messiah. We must bear in mind that when Jesus walked the earth He was actually in Israel speaking to Jewish people! The gospel also belongs to us now, through the same Jesus: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:11-13 (KJV)
So the Kingdom of God will see a restoration of a Spiritual Jewish Kingdom on the earth, where the city of the Great King (Jesus Christ) shall be in Jerusalem:
“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:”
(Romans 11:25-26 KJV)
“As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief:”
(Romans 11:28-30 KJV)
The Kingdom of God
Now one may wonder where the place of the gentile believer is in the grand scheme of things. We gentiles have been adopted to be spiritually the seed of Abraham:
And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. Galatians 3:29 (NLT)
Notice that there is no reference of believers as the seed of Jacob, who was called Israel, but the reference is of Abraham who was also, like us, a believer of God. Jacob obtained his inheritance as a matter of birth right and natural descent, and so still that foundation of the Israelites holds firm.
More specifically for us believers, the Kingdom of God exists. There are 68 verses in the New Testament that refer to the Kingdom of God. We cannot cover them all, but the crux of the matter is this:
Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:21)
The Kingdom of God is a Spiritual Kingdom that we see when we are born again, not of the flesh or the will of man, but of God:
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
One needs to be born again to see the Kingdom of God, but to fully enter it one must be baptized in water and in the Spirit. Baptism in the Holy Spirit and being born again are not the same thing, but more on that at another time.
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John3:5)
The Kingdom of God is a spiritual Kingdom that has to do with God coming to live, rule and have authority in earthly temples:
1 Cor 3:16-17(NIV) Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
The Kingdom of God is not a physical Kingdom but a spiritual one for God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)