Kingdom of God in Luke's Gospel and Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew's Gospel

Matthew  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Inquiry is often made as to the distinction of Meaning between these two terms, the “kingdom of God” which always occurs in Luke; whereas in Matthew “the kingdom of heaven” most frequently appears, that is, thirty-two times, against the “kingdom of God” only four, with one case (chap. 19:24), where the critics differ owing to a variation of reading as to which list, whether “of heaven” or “of God,” it belongs.
In commencing it may he said that sometimes the terms are equivalent, or apparently so. Compare Matt. 3:22And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 3:2) with Mark 1:1515And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel. (Mark 1:15); again Matt. 5:33Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3) with Luke 6:2020And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20); Matt. 6:3333But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33) with Luke 12:3131But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Luke 12:31); and Matt. 13:1111He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. (Matthew 13:11) with Luke 8:1010And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. (Luke 8:10), with many other examples. When this identity fails, the difference of meaning arises from the term “kingdom of heaven” having more specific features given to it, whether of good or evil, over that area where the gospel is now preached, or was once preached, and which area is characterized by a departure from the truth originally set forth, the king, mark, being in heaven.
This departure is alluded to, when our Lord says, Matt. 13:1111He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. (Matthew 13:11), “It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” after delivering the parable (ver. 3) of the sower, as this parable is followed by six others, where we find things distinctly good, as the pearl and the hid treasure; things distinctly bad, as the mustard seed growing into a large tree, and the leaven leavening the whole lump; and a mixture, as the tares among the wheat, and the drag net with good and bad fish; whilst in Luke 13:1818Then said he, Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it? (Luke 13:18) (following five chapters after the same parable of the sower) we have the parables of the leaven and of the mustard seed under the expression, “Unto what is the kingdom of God like,” but none others. Whilst then the sphere of Luke's “kingdom of God” may be equal to Matthew's “kingdom of heaven,” there is more detail of evil in the latter. In fact the “kingdom of heaven” known in its mysteries, comes into a state, or forms itself into a condition, characterized by a departure from God in those things, which the positive arrival of our Lord in heaven introduced, namely, the church and its cognate truths, which were brought about by the descent of the Holy Ghost after Christ's ascent into heaven. Speaking in the large, “kingdom of God” is a more general term in the Gospels, implying power whether morally or personally (compare Luke 17:20; 18:2720And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: (Luke 17:20)
27And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. (Luke 18:27)
); whereas, “the kingdom of heaven” is more dispensational and has peculiar earthly aspects. Compare Matt. 18:23-31; 20:1-1023Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. 28But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. 31So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. (Matthew 18:23‑31)
1For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard. 2And when he had agreed with the laborers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. 5Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. 6And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? 7They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. 8So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the laborers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. 9And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. 10But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. (Matthew 20:1‑10)
.
At the same time it must be allowed that if “the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:18, 2018Then said he, Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it? (Luke 13:18)
20And again he said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God? (Luke 13:20)
) necessitates the same interpretation, as the similar parables in Matt. 13, we must connect this term also with a departure from God: only the features would not be wrought out into such details.
Whilst then, the two phrases “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven,” were in a certain sense identical in the beginning, yet “kingdom of heaven” is rarely, if ever, spoken of as a thing of power as to a man's own conversion, nor was present existence the thought but rather it is mentioned “as at hand,” ἤγγικε. To Peter therefore were given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, whilst the kingdom of God had a fresh beginning by the preaching of our Lord. “If I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come unto you.” (Luke 11:2020But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. (Luke 11:20).) But Peter opened the kingdom of heaven in the case of Cornelius and his companions, on whom the Holy Ghost descended; and thus the term may be held as including, in connection with its mysteries, every form which Christendom puts on during the time in which the gospel is preached; but in the millennium also passing into a two-fold division perfectly good, described in the words, “The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity..... Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their father.” (Matt. 13:41, 4241The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; 42And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:41‑42).) “Kingdom of God” is a more general term, and “kingdom of heaven” more dispensational, with the sense of responsibility. The details of failure and apostasy pertain more to the latter; as well as descriptions of its future success. See in Matt. 25 the parable of the ten virgins.
Hence we see why the apostles never preached the kingdom of heaven, whereas the kingdom of God was common, especially to Paul. (Compare Acts 20:2525And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. (Acts 20:25).) “And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.” Again chapter 28:30, Paul “received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus.” It is clear that he could not have preached the kingdom of heaven, for it might have been a bad thing and had, in part at all events, the earth for its sphere—and rarely had the idea of power connected with it, like the kingdom of God, which “is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Rom. 14:1717For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. (Romans 14:17); 1 Cor. 4:2020For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. (1 Corinthians 4:20).)
As to the derivation of Ἡ βασιλεία “the kingdom of the heavens,” neither it nor “kingdom of God” are found in the Old Testament, although the reigns of the kings of Judah foreshadowed both; and such language as “The kingdom is the Lord's, and be is the governor among the nations” (Psa. 22:2828For the kingdom is the Lord's: and he is the governor among the nations. (Psalm 22:28)), pointed to them.
Probably we should find their origin (especially “the kingdom of heaven") in Daniel, clothed in such words as “the God of heaven shall set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed” (chap. ii. 44); again, “after that thou shalt know that the heavens do rule” (chap. 4:26); and more particularly in the vision of the Son of man (the title belonging to our Lord in the Gospels and under which He dies) coming “with the clouds of heaven,” when a dominion is given to Him, and a kingdom “not to be destroyed.” (Chap. 7:18, 14.) We know that being presented to Israel He was refused, rejected and crucified; but that we look for Him, received up into glory, to come again. Meanwhile, during the time He is in heaven, everything as to its proper manifestation is in abeyance. The kingdom of heaven is in a mystery; but all will be clear when He takes it in person. He ought to have been received when on earth and the kingdom to have begun, but He was not; and so, the king being in heaven, its mysteries are going on now. We must not then lose in the term “kingdom of heaven,” the fact of the king, who is to have the earth, being now in heaven.
Questions concerning such apparently minute subjects may appear trivial to some; but such an examination wonderfully unfolds the character of the Gospels—each an independent witness for Christ, both in His person and character. It was never, we are persuaded, in the mind of the Holy Ghost, that we should force these witnesses into one mold, as is the manner of most harmonies and diatessarons. Each evangelist has his own particular view of our blessed Lord, whilst the four form a combined and admirable portraiture. Our conception of Him, must embrace the traits of them all, and thus we take in the whole mind of God, who has not written one word in vain.
W. W.