What is the Kingdom of Heaven?

By: Bill Bratt 

Some people who believe in the theory of when you die you will go to heaven will point to the term "the kingdom of heaven" as a proof text. Letís take a look at what this term really means.

John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus by preaching about the kingdom of heaven. Matthew recorded: "In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, {2} and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" {3} For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight'" (Matthew 3:1-3).

There are four parts to a kingdom. A kingdom includes a king, territory to rule over, subjects and law. Jesus is the king. The territory that He will rule over when He returns will begin with Jerusalem and then will grow to include all of the earth. The subjects that Jesus will rule over will be all of mankind and He will rule by the laws of God.

It is interesting to note that the term "Kingdom of Heaven" is only used in the book of Matthew. All other references in the New Testament refers to the "Kingdom" or the "Kingdom of God".

Why did Matthew use the term "Kingdom of Heaven"?

The Jewish New Testament Commentary says: "The word "Heaven" was used in pious avoidance of the word "God" and to this day Hebrew malkhut-haShammayim ("Kingdom of Heaven") substitutes in Jewish religious literature for "Kingdom of God," an expression found frequently in the New Testament, first in Matthew 6:33. In the Jewish New Testament "Heaven" is capitalized when it refers to God; "heaven" is in lower-case when it refers to the sky or paradise"(1).

"The Talmud (Pesachim 50a) made it a requirement not to pronounce the Tetragrammaton (the word means the "four-letter name" (YHVH) for God), and this remains the rule in most modern Jewish settings". (2).

The NIV Study Bible relates, under the section Purpose: "Matthewís main purpose is to prove to his Jewish readers that Jesus is their Messiah. He does this primarily by showing how Jesus in his life and ministry fulfilled the O.T. Scriptures."

Matthew primarily wrote to the Jews. He did not want to offend them so he used the term "Kingdom of Heaven" in lieu of the phrase "Kingdom of God".

The Gospel of the Kingdom

The book of Mark begins with the statement about the gospel: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1). {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"" (Mark 1:14-15).

Did you notice what Jesus was preaching? He was preaching the gospel. The gospel of what? He was preaching the gospel of "the kingdom of God"!

The word "gospel" means "good news", "glad tidings" or "good message". So Jesus came preaching the "good news" of the "kingdom of God". Notice in verse 15 that we must "repent and believe this gospel".

The apostle Paul included the following in regards to the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 verse 1, "Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel ....that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, {4} and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures."

Thy Kingdom Come

All Christians are very familiar with Jesusí model prayer, commonly called the Lordís Prayer. Chances are that you pray this prayer everyday. In this model prayer Jesus instructed His disciples to pray for Godís kingdom to come. Letís notice it: "After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. {10} Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:9-10) .

We are to pray "Thy kingdom come". Come where? We are praying that Godís kingdom will come to the earth. In essence we are praying for Godís Son, Jesus Christ, to return to the earth and to set up Godís kingdom and rule for 1,000 years as "King of kings and Lord of lords!" (Revelation 19:16).

Godís government on earth will last 1,000 years. It will be a millennium of world peace, prosperity, good health, a land of "milk and honey." There is a new world coming and it will be a "utopia".

Jesus told His disciples to pray for Godís kingdom, His realm, His government to come to this earth, then as He continued in His "sermon on the mount" He admonished His disciples to: "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). So, we are to "pray" for the kingdom and to "seek first" the kingdom of God.

Another point from Jesus in His "Sermon on the mount" is that He said "Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). Notice that Jesus did NOT say that His disciples would inherit heaven! He said that they would inherit the earth. Did you notice the word "inherit"?

The apostle John records Jesus as saying: "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven" (John 3:13). From this clear scripture Jesus said that no one has gone to heaven except Himself.

(Request our free article: "Thy Kingdom Come" that will go into detail about the return of Christ and the millennium. Also request our free article ĎAre you going to Heaven?" and find out more.)

Footnotes: (1): David H. Stern, "The Jewish New Testament Commentary",1966, p. 16.

(2): David H. Stern, "The Jewish New Testament Commentary",1966, p. 4.

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