The theme of kingdom is evident in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It’s a prominent subject because Jesus Christ made it one of the centerpieces of his preaching. The Gospels contain overlapping revelations about the kingdom, but each includes unique teaching as well. One writer uses a particular name, the kingdom of heaven, and many people are curious to know more about it.
The phrase “kingdom of heaven,” which readers only find in Matthew, refers to God’s rule. The term describes the place of God’s authority, established through Jesus Christ, and the defeat of evil. It’s identical to the phrase “kingdom of God,” which is the preferred term of the other Gospel writers.
In what way does Matthew use the phrase “kingdom of heaven”? Why is the kingdom of heaven important to Christians today? When did the kingdom arrive? Why isn’t it fully here? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Why does Matthew use the phrase “kingdom of heaven”?
The phrases “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” are New Testament descriptions of the same reality. Like other theological subjects, biblical authors may vary in their terminology and word choice. One reason that the authors of the Gospels do this with regard to the kingdom is to emphasize different aspects of it. Another reason is out of consideration for their audience.
Using the word “heaven” instead of “God” reflects sensitivity to a Jewish audience who preferred not to use the word because of its sacred nature. Matthew desires to win his Jewish readers to faith in Jesus, not to offend them unnecessarily. No theological truth is missing or compromised by using the phrase “kingdom of heaven.” Additionally, Matthew uses the phrase “kingdom of God,” too.
- Matthew uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” 33 times
- Matthew uses the phrase “kingdom of God” four times (12:28; 19:24; 21:31; 21:43)
To describe the same concept, Matthew also uses phrases like “kingdom” (25:34), “your kingdom” (6:10), “his kingdom” (6:33), “the kingdom of their father” (13:43, 26:29), “the good news of the kingdom” (4:23, 9:35, 24:14), “the message of the kingdom” (13:19), and “the subjects of the kingdom” (8:12, 13:38).
As missionary David Livingstone explained, the kingdom of heaven is immeasurably valuable: “I place no value on anything I have or may possess, except in relation to the kingdom of God. If anything will advance the interests of the kingdom, it shall be given away or kept, only as by giving or keeping it I shall most promote the glory of Him to whom I owe all my hopes in time or eternity.”
Why is the kingdom of heaven important?
The kingdom of heaven is important because God’s rule is central to who he is (e.g. Psa. 22:28), what he has done through Jesus (cf. Matt. 13:41, 16:28), and the implications it has for people (Luke 22:29).
The kingdom of heaven showcases attributes of God like his sovereignty, power, wisdom, and love. God’s kingdom is paramount in the universe, and no other “kingdom” equals or rivals it. He subdues other “kingdoms” with his power and defeats them with his wisdom. God’s defeat of other kingdoms results in victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil, for Jesus and those who follow him.
The defeat of other kingdoms
Jesus forever defeated Satan, sin, and death on the cross. His victory will be fully realized in the end times when he hands the kingdom back to the Father.
The Apostle Paul teaches that Jesus’ resurrection leads to the resurrection of those who follow him (1 Cor. 15:22-23). After that, Jesus will give the kingdom and its residents to the Father.
Paul writes, “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
He continues, “For God has put all things in subjection under his feet. But when it says, all things are put in subjection, it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:24-28).
The kingdom of heaven has arrived
The kingdom of heaven invaded the world when Jesus was born, lived, ministered, died for sin, and rose from the dead. Jesus spoke of the kingdom’s arrival, such as when he said, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28). He spoke of the same reality when he said, “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21).
While opposing kingdoms won’t experience complete eradication until the end of time, people can now transfer their allegiance to the kingdom of heaven by responding to the gospel that Jesus proclaimed (Rom. 6:23, 10:9-10). Every person is either a citizen of God’s kingdom or another one.
Christian pastor John Macarthur explains, “You live in a kingdom. You are subject to the authority and the power of the enemy of your soul, or you are subject to the authority and power of the Savior of your soul. You are either in the kingdom that ends up in hell, or the kingdom that ends up in heaven.”
The kingdom of heaven hasn’t fully come
While the kingdom of heaven has come, it won’t fully manifest until the end of time. Therefore, while Jesus spoke of its arrival (see above), he also desired its complete expression when he prayed, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
One reason the kingdom hasn’t fully manifested is that rival kingdoms still exist, even though they are defeated and have no chance of victory. The New Testament refers to these kingdoms in several places.
- Matthew 4:8, “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.”
- Matthew 12:26, “And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?”
- Luke 4:5, “And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time”
- Luke 11:18, “And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul.”
Though Satan is “the god of this world” who has “blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel” (2 Cor. 4:4), Jesus transfers people from one kingdom to the other. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13).
British preacher and theologian, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, explains the arrived-but-not-full-here reality of the kingdom when he writes, “The kingdom has come, the kingdom is coming, the kingdom is yet to come. Now we must always bear that in mind. Whenever Christ is enthroned as King, the kingdom of God is come, so that, while we cannot say that He is ruling over all in the world at the present time, He is certainly ruling in that way in the hearts and lives of all His people.”
 Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Eerdmans, 1960, p. 16.
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