By Michael Martin, AIA research associate, © 1995
What’s the difference between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven? Many people, who believe that there are two people of God, Israel and the Church (a dispensational distinctive), the Kingdom of God refers to Israel while the Kingdom of Heaven refers to the Church. However, this appears to be an artificial distinctive which ignores the Jewish idiom of respecting God so much that designations for him avoid using his name Yahweh, and other forms of direct naming, in favor of words associated with him, such as “heaven” or “blessed” (see Matt. 21:25; Mark 14:61).
What is the common usage of the term Kingdom (Basileia)? Frequently in Scripture and in ordinary Greek usage the term is abstract rather than concrete, referring more to authority, power, and/or rule rather than of a realm, land, or people. Such a concrete usage is rare.
Is the Kingdom Physical or Spiritual? Some liberal theologians say that it is simply a moral ideal or standard that people should attempt to imitate. Others argue that Christ was attempting to establish a literal, physical kingdom but failed.
The liberal view gained popularity during the nineteenth century and early in this century, with the rise of liberalism. The latter view is commonly held by dispensationalists and became popular during the last 160 years.
The view held by the majority of the Church throughout the centuries (“realized” millennarians hold this view, both post-millennial and amillennial) is that Christ received the kingdom at his ascension and that the kingdom came with power at Pentecost (Daniel 7:9; Joel 2:28). Christ is reigning now from heaven (Rev. 1:5) and is exercising his authority in and through the Church, both spiritually and physically (culminating in the resurrection) (Matt. 16:19).
What is the relationship between the Kingdom and Prophecy? Isaiah, Zechariah, and the other prophets wrote about a coming king and his eternal kingdom, which God promised would come through the line of David (Is. 9:5; Zech. 9:9). He will rule the nations with a rod of iron, yet he is also called the prince of peace. His enemies’ tongues will dissolve and he will destroy his peoples’ enemies, yet he comes meek and lowly, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. The Jews of Jesus’ day were confused over the way Christ had come to them. They thought he was supposed to devour their enemies, but he seemed more angry with “his people,” the Jews, than with those who ruled over them, the Romans. Similarly, today many Christians seem to expect to see Christ sending down lightning bolts on unbelievers, while instead he seems to punish us and let them go free, or even bless them. Too often we neglect to see that God’s power is his gospel (Rom. 1:16) and that his kingdom is advanced by his mercy and longsuffering toward men, although one day all will be judged (see, for example, the Book of Hosea).
How is the Kingdom established? The Kingdom of God is spoken of as past, present, and future. Some have seen this as a real confusion among the gospel writers, and a serious problem for a consistent study of the Kingdom of God in scripture. However, what the Word of God is revealing, consistently and in both testaments, is a progression of the Kingdom of God (Dan. 9:34-35; Matt. 13:33). The Kingdom, or power and authority of God, has been invading the entire world through the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom (Rom. 1:16).
Who enters the Kingdom and how? The Apostle Paul said, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom” (1 Cor. 15:50). Christ said, “Unless you are born again you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Jesus also taught that you must become like a little child to enter (Matt. 18:3). Those who enter the Kingdom are the poor in spirit, the seeking, and those persecuted for His Name’s sake (Matt. 5:3-10; 6:33). Those who find it difficult to enter the Kingdom are the rich, the proud, and the self-righteous (Matt. 19:23; 23:13). Christ said that he was the door and that he was the only way to the Father. It is through Christ that one enters the Kingdom, not through any merits of his own or anyone else.
What about the Kingdom and the Second Coming? Much confusion over the Kingdom of God results from confusing the timing of prophetic events. Some (dispensationalists) teach that at Christ’s return he would establish the kingdom he had once offered the Jews, but which they rejected. They believe that the Jews at the Second Coming will weep over him in repentance and then Christ will rule over them on earth while the Gentile believers occupy heaven.
However, the kingdom Christ came to establish was one that destroyed sin, not simply any earthly power such as Rome or any other nation (Rom. 6:23). His Kingdom deals with the root of all misery, pain, and tyranny — the heart (Jer. 17:9). It was established at the cross (Col. 2:15). The Kingdom doesn’t come with observation, or initial visible signs, but it begins from within and at the end, when all the enemies of the Kingdom are defeated, Christ will return and offer his people, the Church, the citizens of his Kingdom, to the Father, “that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:24).