One of the most common questions people have about ‘the kingdom of God’ is whether it’s the same or different from ‘the kingdom of heaven.’
Are the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Heaven the same? Yes, the evidence below proves the ‘kingdom of God’ and the ‘kingdom of heaven’ are interchangeable phrases.
A google-search on this topic quickly produces strong opinions about whether these two phrases are interchangeable, and you can quickly get bogged-down and confused by some of the convoluted arguments. So, once I answered the question to my satisfaction I produced the chart below that provides readers with the simple and compelling evidence for my conclusion that they’re interchangeable.
Bible Verses Showing the ‘Kingdom of God’ and the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ are Interchangeable
The chart below lists the scriptures where Matthew, Mark and Luke use the phrases ‘kingdom of heaven’ and ‘kingdom of God’ interchangeably. The ‘kingdom of Heaven’ verses are in the left column. Reading from left to right on each row, the middle and right (blue) columns show the ‘kingdom of God’ verses that are interchangeable with each ‘kingdom of heaven’ verse.
Especially notice Matthew 19:23 at the bottom of the chart where Matthew himself uses both terms within the same verse.
I like Thai food. In every authentic Thai restaurant that I’ve ever patronized, I’ve noticed a photo of Thailand’s king prominently and respectfully displayed.
The coronation of their next king, Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun (also called ‘Rama X’) over the realm of Thailand is planned on May 6, 2019. The ‘kingdom of Rama X’ will be the same as the ‘kingdom of Thailand.’
In the same way, the kingdom of the Queen of Great Britain is the same as the kingdom of Great Britain.
Just as in these two modern examples, the kingdom of God is the same as the kingdom of the heavens.
Why Did Matthew Use the Phrase ‘Kingdom of Heaven’?
The Gospel of Matthew is the only book in the Bible that uses the phrase ‘kingdom of heaven’. Why did he choose this phrase?
Because He was Writing to a Jewish Audience?
Why did Matthew use ‘the kingdom of heaven’?
Many commentators speculate that Matthew used ‘kingdom of heaven’ instead of ‘kingdom of God’ because Matthew’s gospel was aimed primarily at a Jewish audience, and traditional Jews are very sensitive to the holiness of God’s name.
Rabbinical ‘Fences’ Around God’s Commandments
Since before Jesus’ earthly ministry, in order to prevent people from breaking a legal commandment, the Pharisees of rabbinical Judaism would ‘build a fence’ around each commandment. For example, in Exodus 23:19 and Deuteronomy 14:21 there’s an obscure command that says, “Don’t boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” To make sure people didn’t inadvertently break this law, rabbis ‘built a fence,’ making it unlawful to mix any dairy with meat products. That’s why, according to rabbinical Judaism, it’s unlawful for Jews to eat a cheeseburger today.
In like manner, to prevent Jews from breaking the 3rd commandment and ‘taking the Lord’s name in vain’ the rabbis made it unlawful to speak or write the Lord’s name, or even the generic word ‘God’, even though God Himself explicitly tells us to praise His name, bless His name, and pray in His name, etc.
For more than 1000 years, since before the famous rabbi Maimonides, the rabbis prohibited Jewish believers from pronouncing God’s name YHWH, or even writing the generic word “God.” Instead of writing or saying YHWH, they automatically substitute words like Adonai (the Lord) or Ha-Shem (the Name) anytime the Hebrew Bible says YHWH. Instead of writing the word ‘God’ they try to camouflage it by writing it ‘G-d’.
This reasoning also carried-over into the Church, which is why God’s name ‘YHWH’ is still universally replaced by the word ‘LORD’ within Christian Bibles today.
But Matthew Also Used ‘the Kingdom of God’
Thinking that Matthew was being sensitive to a Jewish audience makes sense except for one problem; Matthew also used the phrase ‘the kingdom of God’ in his gospel. So much for that theory…
According to the Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, Matthew uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” 34 times and the phrase “kingdom of God” 4 times. (I’m providing the Bible Encyclopedia’s numbers because different commentators have varying numbers, depending on which Bible translation they’re using.)
The point is that we can’t say Matthew was avoiding the use of ‘kingdom of God’ because he was writing to a Jewish audience. If that was the reason he wouldn’t have risked offending them by using ‘kingdom of God’ at all.
The Bottom Line
So, the bottom line is that I couldn’t find any source that logically explained (to my satisfaction) why Matthew sometimes used ‘the kingdom of heaven’ phrase when nobody else in the Bible did, especially since he also used ‘the kingdom of God.’
I assume Matthew used ‘the kingdom of heaven’ as a common expression that people of his day were familiar with. But, while I’m not 100% sure why Matthew used the ‘kingdom of heaven’ phrase, I am sure the evidence in the table above is compelling toward proving the two phrases are interchangeable.
Considering the evidence in the table, Matthew was not trying to teach that the kingdom of heaven was a different entity from the kingdom of God.
Other Kingdom Phrases
The Kingdom of Israel
The kingdom of Israel in the Hebrew Bible, especially under kings David and Solomon, was a type and shadow of the Messiah’s future kingdom on earth.
The Kingdom of Christ
“For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”Ephesians 5:5
While the terms ‘kingdom of God’ and ‘kingdom of heaven’ are interchangeable, the ‘kingdom of Christ’ conveys a slightly different meaning. The kingdom of Christ is the beginning phase of the kingdom of God on the earth.
The kingdom of Christ is the first phase of God’s reign on the earth. It will begin when Jesus implements His ‘rod of iron’ rule over all nations, beginning at His second coming.
From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of ironRevelation 19:15
The ‘millennial reign’ of the kingdom of Christ will then continue for at least 1000 years; until 1 Corinthians 15:28 is fulfilled:
“And when all things have been subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will be made subject to Him who put all things under Him, so that God may be all in all.”1 Corinthians 15:28
Jesus will reign as King over all nations until all sin and rebellion are repented-of by every creature ever created (Colossians 1:20). Then, when complete peace through God’s grace is finally obtained forever for all created beings, Jesus will present His glorious kingdom to His Father.
Greek Word Studies – What’s the Difference Between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the Heavens?
In this section I provide a quick investigation into the Greek words that comprise the two subject phrases. Feel free to scroll down to the Conclusion below if you’re not interested in the Greek word study.
The Kingdom of God
The kingdom (basileias) of God (theou).
The root of basileias is basileia, which is Strong’s 932. It means kingdom, sovereignty, or royal power.
The root of theou is theos, which is Strong’s 2316. It means God, the creator and owner of all things.
The Phrase ‘Kingdom of God’ Is Used 70 Times in the New Testament
According to Strong’s Concordance, the phrase ‘Kingdom of God’ is used 70 times:
- 5 times in Matthew
- 15 times in Mark
- 32 times in Luke
- 2 times in John
- 16 times in the Book of Acts and Paul’s epistles
The Kingdom of Heaven
The kingdom (basileia) of Heaven (ouranon) is used 32 times, and it’s only found in the Gospel of Matthew.
The root word basileia is Strong’s 932. It means kingdom, sovereignty, or royal power. (Same as Kingdom of God above.)
The word ouranon is plural, meaning “the heavens.” The root of ouranon is ouranos, which is Strong’s 3772. It means the sky, the starry heavens, or the spiritual heavens.
Matthew Used The ‘Kingdom of God’ Phrase 5 Times
Depending on which translation you use, there will be 4-6 times that Matthew uses the phrase ‘kingdom of God’. Strong’s Concordance lists the following five uses of the phrase ‘kingdom of God’ in Matthew:
- Mt 6:33, But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.
- Mt 12:28, But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
- Mt 19:24, Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
- Mt 21:31, Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.
- Mt 21:43, Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.
Matthew was not trying to teach that the kingdom of heaven was a different entity from the kingdom of God.
In the chart above I listed 10 Bible verses where the phrases ‘kingdom of heaven’ and ‘kingdom of God’ are used interchangeably by different apostolic authors, including one verse where Matthew used both phrases in the same verse. Therefore, the evidence is compelling that the two phrases point to the same entity.
Finally, the kingdom of Christ is the first phase of God’s kingdom reign on the earth. It will begin when Jesus implements His ‘rod of iron’ rule over all nations, beginning at His second coming.
What Do You Think?
Did this article answer all your questions on this topic? Please leave a comment below and tell me:
- Were you satisfied by the information in this article?
- Or, did it leave you wanting more?
Q: What does it mean to seek first the Kingdom of God?
Q: What does it mean the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence?