Introduction – Kingdom of God
Understanding the phrase “Kingdom of God” is crucial in order to understand the 4 Gospel accounts of the ministry and teaching of Christ. The term encompasses the sovereign authority of Christ and is closely tied to the gospel message:
Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.
The phrase “Kingdom of God” is used 54 times in the 4 gospels.
- Matthew – 5 times
- Mark – 15 times
- Luke – 32 times
- Jonh – 2 times
The Kingdom of Heaven
The phrase “Kingdom of Heaven”, by contrast, is used 32 times in the NT – all in the gospel of Matthew. This raises two very interesting questions, are the “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” different; and why was Matthew the only writer to use the phrase? The answer to the first question, in my opinion, answers the second, so we’ll look at that here.
So, why is it that Matthew is the only evangelist to record the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven”? There are two possibilities: 1) that Jesus preached two separate messages about two separate kingdoms (accounts in the life of Jesus which only Matthew recorded), or 2) the terms are interchangeable.
If Jesus preached two separate gospels about two separate kingdoms, then each use of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ in Matthew’s gospel should be a description of a unique account of Jesus’ ministry, separate from the accounts given concerning the ‘Kingdom of God’ at other times.
This matter begs for a full accounting of all the uses of the phrase in Matthews Gospel, but for the sake of time, a simple example will serve to make the issue clear. Matthew 19 (for example) contains several instances of the usage of “kingdom of Heaven” that have parallel accounts in the other gospels. Here is one of those…
Jesus Blesses the Children
In Matthew’s account, Jesus left the coasts of Galilee and traveled to Judea on the other side of Jordan (Matt 19:1). The Pharisees gathered around Jesus and began trying to test him regarding His teaching on marriage and divorce (Matt 19:3-12). At this point, people began bringing their children to Jesus for him to bless.
In Mark’s account, Jesus left the coasts of Galilee and traveled to Judea on the other side of Jordan (Mk 10:1). The Pharisees gathered around Jesus and began trying to test him regarding His teaching on marriage and divorce (Mk 10:2-12). At this point, people began bringing their children to Jesus for him to bless.
From this context, it is obvious that both Matthew and Mark are recording the identical account. Now, let’s look at the use of ‘kingdom’ by these evangelists to see if Jesus is preaching about two separate kingdoms or if the two terms are synonymous.
Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.