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The Kingdom of God / Kingdom of Heaven

Kingdom of God / Heaven Through Time

  • Kingdom of God / Kingdom of Heaven refer to the same thing

    • Scholars used to differentiate, but have come to consensus that Matthew was seeking to avoid direct reference to God out of deference to his Jewish audience

  • Almost all of works listed in bibliography trace the development of thought behind "kingdom of God" through OT, second temple Judaism, etc., more extensively than we do here

  • In the OT and second temple Judaism:

    • Term does not appear in OT, but thought is consistent throughout

    • Ruler of the kingdom of God was none other than YHWH himself (the Creator and Ruler of all that is created)

    • Carried ideas of rule and dominion, though man rebelled

    • Still, YHWH is sovereign and plans to redeem for himself a people over whom he will rule, of which Israel becomes a type

    • Throughout Israel's books of prophecy there is a Davidic king expected who will establish and execute perfect sovereignty; spoken of in prophetic and even apocalyptic terms, thus associated with the end of the fallen creation

    • Since prophecies are couched in covenantal language, Jews expected a national leader who would come and restore kingdom to Israel; physical, earthly rule was the given conception

  • In the rest of the NT:

    • Phrase is used six time in Acts and eight times in Paul's epistles

    • Three passages from the NT indicate that the kingdom of God / heaven is the same thing as the kingdom of Christ (Eph 5.5; Rev 11.15; 12.10)


Relevance to Understanding Jesus / the Gospels

  • There are over 100 reference to the kingdom of God / heaven in the synoptics

  • It is central to Jesus' thought, teachings, and ethics

  • t belongs to whoever obeys his commands (Mt 5.3, 11)


Kingdom of God / Heaven According to Jesus

  • Jesus forges his own concept of what the kingdom of heaven (expression of God's sovereign reign on earth) will be--not built entirely from OT thought

  • The concept of the kingdom of God is primarily dynamic, rather than spatial

    • "Kingdominion," not physical land with borders

  • There are conditions to entrance into Christ's kingdom (Mt 5.3, 20; 7.21; Jn 3.3ff)

    • Cannot, therefore, refer to God's absolute sovereignty

  • Kingdom of heaven in the narrower sense of God's rule is "that exercise of God's sovereignty which bears directly on his saving purposes. All who are in the kingdom have life..." (Carson, 12).

  • Can sometimes be used in a more ambiguous sense to refer to those who attempt to align themselves with God's purposes and people, but are ultimately separated (Mt 8.10-12; 13.24-30)

  • Has application for both the present and the future

    • Kingdom of God has come (Mt 12.28) ("already")

    • Kingdom of God will be consummated in the new heaven and new earth (Is 65.17; 66.22; 2 Pt 3.13; Rev 21.1) ("not yet")

  • Jesus himself warned not to expect the complete consummation of the kingdom during his earthly ministry (Lk 19.11-27)

  • Entrance into the kingdom of God is roughly equivalent to (though not entirely synonymous with) John's "eternal life" (cf. Mk 9.45, 47)

    • Kingdom has connotations of authority and rule not associated with "life"

    • Throughout the Sermon on the Mount Jesus stress how his followers are to live (see previous class handout by Dr. Constant on "Kingdom Ethics")

    • The underlying truth is that God's rule is now mediated through Christ who has all authority (Mt 28.18) and he is the king whose commands we must obey if we claim to have citizenship in his kingdom (Mt 7.24-27)

  • Kingdom of God is the "great theme" of the Sermon on the Mount

    • Inclusio of kingdom-possession beatitudes (Mt 5.3-11) shows that the heart of the people in whose hearts Christ reigns is characterized by the beatitudes

  • Kingdom is destined to be an eternal reality; it will continue to grow and finally prove victorious, though it faces much opposition now

  • "The history of redemption begins immediately (after Eden) the kingdom is lost, and tells of the way the kingdom of God will finally be established as a new people of God in fellowship with him in a new Eden, a new Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth" (Goldsworthy, 620).

Kingdom of heaven 1.jpg Kingdom of heaven 2.jpg

Figures taken from Carson, pp. 13, 14.





* Achtemeier, Paul J, Joel B. Green and Marianne Meye Thompson. "Kingdom of God" in Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001, pp. 214-224.


Bock, Darrell L. Jesus According to Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002, esp. pp. 574-579.


Caragounis, C.C. "The Kingdom of God/Heaven" in Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight and I. Howard Marshall, eds. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992, pp. 417-430.


* For the best popular-level explanation of the Kingdom of Heaven, see Carson, D.A. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount And His Confrontation with the World. Grand Rapids: Global Christian Publishers, 1999, pp. 11-16.


Duling, Dennis C. "Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven" in David Noel Freedman's The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v.4. New York: Doubleday, 1992, pp. 49-69.


* Goldsworthy, G. "Kingdom of God" in T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, D.A. Carson and Graeme Goldsworthy's New Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Exploring the Unity & Diversity of Scripture. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000, pp. 615-620.


Ladd, G.E. "Kingdom of God" in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, v.3. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986, pp. 23-29.


* Stein, Robert H. "Kingdom of God" in Walter A. Elwell, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996, pp. 451-454.


* The most helpful, reliable and / or easily accessible.