One of the many reasons Jesus came to Earth was to teach us about the Kingdom of God. When he was first starting his ministry Jesus said this, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.” (Luke 4:43)
Jesus needed to explain to us how the kingdom of God works because it is so radically different than how things work in our world in so many areas. There are a whole lot of ways we do things in our world that are completely upside down from how they work in the Kingdom of God.
After he had been teaching a little while and his disciples were beginning to understand how things work in God’s Kingdom, Jesus sent them out to do the same thing:
He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.— Luke 9:2
Even today we need to be taught about God’s kingdom because it is so radically different than our entire natural life experience. For one thing we need to understand that Kingdom principles apply to us today.
God’s Kingdom is Here Now
But just in case you’re tempted to think that the Kingdom of God is something that is off in the future or only exists in eternity, Jesus told people that the Kingdom of God was already at hand in his time. For example:
Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “ The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel. — Mark 1:14-15
Apparently it was pretty important to Jesus for us to understand how things work differently in the Kingdom of God than in our world. Yet for the most part as believers we seem to have lost sight of those differences. Today there is remarkably little difference between how things are done in the church and how they are done by non believers.
Kingdom of God vs Kingdom of Heaven
It can be a little confusing because the book of Matthew predominately uses the term Kingdom of Heaven while all the other Gospels use the term Kingdom of God exclusively.
Because of that some have concluded that those terms are talking about two different things. That line of thinking says that the Kingdom of Heaven refers to the world under the New Covenant, but before Jesus returns to rule politically over the Earth, and the term Kingdom of God refers to the time after Jesus returns physically to rule over the Earth.
Personally I don’t think that’s the case. To me it makes more sense that those two terms are used interchangeably to mean the same thing. That explanation makes the most sense when you consider the intended audience each Gospel writer was writing to reach.
Matthew wrote his Gospel to reach a Jewish audience. Religious Jews won’t say the name of God out of fear, respect, and reverence for God. Typically when a religious Jew is reading their scriptures (ie. what Christians call the Old Testament) and they come to God’s name YHVH in the text instead of pronouncing that word they will say Adonai instead.
So to a Jewish audience, reading through a book that referred to the Kingdom of God over and over again would have been jarring. It would have distracted them from the message that Matthew was trying to get across. Therefore he used Heaven instead of God for the most part to remove that barrier for his Jewish audience to receiving the greater message.
In fact, the only place Matthew uses Kingdom of God is a handful of times when he’s quoting Jesus directly. Jesus had a reputation of stirring things up and jarring the Jewish religious establishment so perhaps that’s why Matthew left those few references in there.
In contrast the other Gospel writers wrote for different audiences. As a result the other Gospels always use the term Kingdom of God.
Mark wrote for a Roman audience. His Gospel is full of action and focuses on the power of Jesus, what Jesus accomplished. Mark establishes Jesus as King. Mark tailored his Gospel to the Romans in other ways too. He used some Latin phrasing familiar to Romans. He explains Jewish customs which the Romans wouldn’t have known. And Mark references time using the Roman method of watches instead of talking about hours of the day.
Luke wrote his Gospel to reach a Greek audience. He added more detail to his writing to appeal to the Greek philosophical mind. He uses Greek names for places instead of Roman names. In his introduction Luke says that he’s laying out what happened in an orderly fashion to make the truth of what he writes obvious, again appealing to the Greek mind.
John wrote his Gospel for a general audience. His account is far more theological than the others so some consider his audience to be Christian disciples who already believe. But John said that he wrote his account so people would believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and in that believing have eternal life in His name (John 20:31).
The people the other Gospel writers were looking to reach didn’t have the same concerns about expressing the name of God that the Jewish folks Matthew was speaking to did. Therefore they never substitute Heaven when talking about God’s Kingdom.
Explaining the Kingdom of God
Jesus was a master at painting word pictures to explain complex ideas. He used every day things that people he was speaking to were familiar with to help them understand how radically different the Kingdom of God is.
Here are just some of the analogies Jesus used to explain the Kingdom of God:
- Wheat and Tares
- Mustard Seed
- Yeast (Leven)
- Hidden Treasure
- A Pearl of Great Price
- A Dragnet
- Managing Business Accounts Receivable
- Hiring Day Laborers
- Business Investing (Talents)
- Inviting Guests to a Wedding Celebration
- Wise and Foolish Virgins
The amazing thing about the way Jesus taught is that we still can clearly understand what Jesus meant thousands of years later in a completely different culture using a very different language than he originally spoke.
So the next time you read through the Gospels try doing it with an eye to seeing how differently things work in the Kingdom of God than what you see in the world around you. I suspect that will be an eye opening exercise for you.