What is the Nature of The Kingdom of God & Kingdom of Heaven?

The Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God

TR31K asks:

When Christ refers to “Kingdom of Heaven” and the “Kingdom of God” in Matthew 5 and Luke 17:21, is He referring to a future kingdom on earth, or a figurative meaning? How do I know when to interpret these literally?

Matthew 3:5

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:10

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:19

Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

In the New Testament, the phrase kingdom of heaven only occurs in Matthew. It seems that sometimes Matthew uses kingdom of heaven as a replacement for the phrase kingdom of God.

For example, Matthew 3:5 has:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

A similar statement Jesus made is recorded in Luke 6:20:

Luke 6:20

Blessed are you poor,
For yours is the kingdom of God.

To substitute “heaven” instead of saying “God” was common among some Jews, who still today look for words to replace “God” so as to not say the word directly. Matthew’s use of kingdom of heaven seems to be this indirect way of referring to God, appropriate for a gospel written to a mainly Jewish audience.

However, it is interesting to see that Matthew – even though he is the only one to use the phrase kingdom of heaven in the New Testament and uses it 33 times – also uses the phrase kingdom of God five times.

For example, in the same Sermon on the Mount that uses the phrase kingdom of heaven five times, Jesus also referred to the kingdom of God:

Matthew 6:33

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

I don’t know exactly what to make of that, other than to say that while Matthew mainly referred to the kingdom of Jesus as thekingdom of heaven, there were occasions where he referred to it as the kingdom of God, as the other gospel writers did.

What is the Kingdom of God?

Jesus Christ is a King; He is the King of Kings. The kingdom of God is where the reign of Jesus Christ is recognized and submitted to, and the benefits of His reign are received.

The kingdom of God is both spiritual and material. There is a spiritual aspect to the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and there is a material aspect. Churches are, or should be, “outposts” or “embassies” of the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God is already present, and it is also coming. It is present now among God’s people, and it is to come as a material reality over all the earth.

Isaiah 11:9

For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
As the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 42:4

He will not fail nor be discouraged,
Till He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands shall wait for His law.

Isaiah 52:10

The LORD has made bare His holy arm
In the eyes of all the nations;
And all the ends of the earth shall see
The salvation of our God.

Jeremiah 10:10

But the LORD is the true God;
He is the living God and the everlasting King.
At His wrath the earth will tremble,
And the nations will not be able to endure His indignation.

Jeremiah 23:5

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD,
“That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness;
A King shall reign and prosper,
And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.

Christians have come to have different approaches to the ultimate establishment of the kingdom of God. To give broad, imprecise definitions:

Some believe the kingdom of God, in its ultimate sense, is already among us.

Some believe the kingdom of God, in its ultimate sense, will be established through God’s people, before the glorious second coming of Jesus Christ.

Some believe the kingdom of God, in its ultimate sense, will be established by Jesus Himself, after His glorious second coming.

But the emphasis is on the word ultimate – it doesn’t deny that the kingdom of God is among us in a real, not a figurative sense – but it is a spiritual sense among God’s people. The more influence God’s people have in any particular city, state, or nation, the more that city, state, or nation should look like the ultimate kingdom of God.

TR31K also asked about Luke 17:20-21:

Luke 17:20-21

Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

  1. [20] When He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come: We may just imagine a hostile Pharisee coming to Jesus and demanding Him to either “put up” and produce the Kingdom of the Messiah, or to “shut up” and stop claiming He was the Messiah.

In Jesus’ day, just like our own, people longed for the coming of the Messiah. They knew the prophesies in the Old Testament which spoke of the glory of the coming Messiah; they wanted that kind of life and earth now.

  1. [20] The kingdom of God does not come with observation: Jesus made it clear to the Pharisee asking the question that the kingdom of God won’t be found through a hostile questioning of Jesus. The ancient Greek word translated observation is better-translated, hostile examination. Jesus told the Pharisees that their hostile, doubting eyes were unable to see or receive the kingdom of God.
  2. According to Geldenhuys, the verb from which the word observation comes from is used often in the New Testament and in the Septuagint; it means “hostile observation.”
  3. [21] For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you: Jesus told them that the kingdom was right in their midst. Within youcould be better translated in your midst or among you. The kingdom of God was among them because the King was among them.

This was not a mystical revelation by Jesus that in some seed form, the Kingdom of God is within everyone in a New Age sense. After all, Jesus would not have told Pharisees that the kingdom of God was within them. The statement of Jesus called attention to Himself, not to man.

Like many today, the Pharisees said they wanted the Kingdom of God to come; but you can’t want the Kingdom and reject the King. “The Pharisees asked Him when the Kingdom of God would appear, while it was right in their midst because the King Himself was there.” (Morgan)

New Living Translation, Luke 17:20-21

“The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”

ESV, Luke 17:20-21

“The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

We read about prayer and fasting both in the OT and NT. What is the spiritual significance of fasting, and how do they (prayer and fasting) work together?

Every time we talk about fasting, I like to recommend the book by my father-in-law, Dedication through Fasting and Prayer by Nils-Erik Bergström. Take a look at this book to get a great explanation.

One of the central ideas of fasting can be expressed by something Jesus said in response to Satan, when He was being tempted in the wilderness. Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone.” Fasting recognizes that our lives depend on more than just the food we eat. When we’re hungry, we want food, but there are greater things for us to pursue than our bodily appetites. And any kind of bodily appetite could fit into that category.

Another great benefit from fasting is the practice of self-denial. Look, it’s possible for people to go in a weird direction with self-denial. You read about monks of old, and maybe some people still do this, who were sleeping on sharp objects or on cold floors, keeping themself up watches through the night with ice baths, and so on. So, it’s possible to abuse just about anything. But that does not mean there’s not an entirely appropriate and godly place for self-denial and being able to tell the flesh, “You’re not in charge; God is in charge.” That’s what the practice of fasting does.

Prayer is a way of seeking God and appealing to Him, and fasting is a way in which we prioritize God and align ourselves with His heart and His purpose. Prayer should have God as the priority. Fasting is a way to exercise that, and to say, “God is in fact my priority.”

How would you define a cult? Is the Seventh Day Adventist church a cult?

What is your definition of the word cult? What criteria must be met in order to be a cult? Do you believe that the Seventh Day Adventist church is a cult? Why or why not, in your view?

I love this question because it addresses a serious issue. Christians all the time say “cult” this or “cult” that. But unless we define what we mean by something being a cult, then we can’t come to agreement on things.

First, there is an academic definition of cult, which is basically any religious practice. An academic may look at the customs of ancient Judaism and talk about “the cult of Moses” being instituted, or something like that. Most people don’t use the term in that sense, but we should be aware that that academic sense of the term cult is out there.

Secondly, when I use the definition of a cult, I don’t mean a group that’s just wrong about something. I would make my definition of cult in the same way I make my definition of heresy. I reserve the term heresy for this: if you believe it or if you believe what these people teach, you are going to hell; you won’t go to heaven. You’re in such denial of the biblical truth of who God is and what He did to rescue us, that you are in very real peril of not going to heaven at all. You’re not in right relationship with God. I would put cult in the same category. So, there’s the academic sense of the word, as well as the popular sense of it.

When I use the term cult, I’m using it for things that are outside the realm of biblical Christianity. But there is also a way to speak about a cult in a sociological or cultural sense. In other words, there are Christian groups that have pretty good doctrine, but their social environment is cultish. The way they treat one another, the way the leadership works, and the way that the members or followers respond to the leadership correspond to the social aspects of a cult.

There are also theological cults. I do not believe that the Seventh Day Adventist Church qualifies as a cult. Even though I believe there are some significant errors in their doctrines, I would not say that believing what most Seventh Day Adventist pastors and churches teach will render it impossible for you to come in right relationship with God, or that you won’t go to heaven. I would not put Seventh Day Adventist into that category. Just like in any group, there’s no doubt a radical fringe among Seventh Day Adventist groups who probably are a cult. But my general interactions with Seventh Day Adventists would not lead me to conclude that, broadly speaking, they’re a cult.

I would like your view on 1 Timothy 3. What are the various offices outlined, and how do they translate to today’s church? Is there an office in the church hierarchy that’s appropriate for a woman to hold?

I know it’s possible for us to get super diplomatic and try to smooth over any differences that Christians may have in these areas. But you’re asking me this question, so I’m going to give my answer. And I want to do you the honor of speaking to you directly.

1 Timothy 3 deals with overseers and deacons. The Bible speaks of leadership in the church in three offices: overseers, elders, and pastors. There is an overlap between these different offices. In some sense, they seem to be combined in one role, describing different functions, but in other senses, it seems to imply some variation.

For example, Paul will refer to elders who teach, implying that not all elders teach or handle the word of God. Nevertheless, they are leaders in the congregation, recognized in their leadership as elders, and they have oversight of the congregation as bishops. The third word pastor is used less frequently in the New Testament, but it’s there. It refers to one having a shepherding care over the congregation. I believe that those offices are reserved for qualified men in a congregation. It’s not just men, as if any man can hold these offices. No, not at all. But qualified men can hold these offices of bishop, overseer, elder, and pastor among God’s churches.

I don’t believe that the Bible commands any particular form or structure of church government. I think that’s why we’ve seen different forms and structures of church government throughout the history of the church. There are three classical forms of church government. There’s the episcopal, which puts the authority mostly in a singular leader of the church. Some people could refer to today as the pastoral leadership model. Then there’s the presbyterian or the elder-led model, where the church is led by a team of people who have equal authority and leadership. The third model would be congregational, where the church is led by vote of the congregation.

I believe you can find at least some biblical precedent for every one of these. And I think God did that deliberately. The important thing in church leadership is not fundamentally structure. I’m not saying structure doesn’t matter. But fundamentally, the most important thing in church leadership is character. Any structure of church government, whether episcopal (pastor-led), presbyterian (elder-led), or congregational, can work if the people in those systems are people of godly character. Godliness is more important than the structure. That’s what the New Testament emphasizes.

Is there an office in the church hierarchy that’s appropriate for a woman to hold? I’m going to answer very literally, based on the way you answer that question. Is there an office in the church hierarchy that’s appropriate for women to hold? No, I don’t think so. I don’t think women should hold the offices of overseer, elder, or pastor. Those are offices that God is reserved for qualified men. Friends, if this outrages you, I recommend to you two videos that are in our YouTube library. One is where I teach very carefully through this passage in 1 Timothy 2. (Video: Men and Women in the Church: 1 Timothy 2:8-15). This is an important passage in the New Testament that speaks of this order which God has established for the church. I would also recommend another video on our YouTube channel, Video: A Word to Women Pastors. Check those out if you want to go any deeper on this topic.

Overseer, elder, pastor are offices of authority, which implies some kind of hierarchy. But I do believe there is an office open to women, which is the office of deacon. I believe that the New Testament establishes that there were women or female deacons in the New Testament church. We certainly know that they existed in the early church. But deacon is not fundamentally an office of authority. Is there some authority with it? Well, yes, some. But it’s not in the hierarchy, so to speak. It’s an office, but is focused on service, not on leadership, oversight, or leading or ruling a congregation, as an elder would do.

You asked, “Is there an office in the church hierarchy that’s appropriate for women?” I would say no. Is there an office in church ministry that’s appropriate for women? Absolutely. I would say the office of deacon is open for women.

I don’t know if my answer pleases you or displeases you. That’s not my responsibility. I just want you to know that I’m trying to do you the respect of speaking to you directly on this. If you want more information on those things, I really recommend to you those videos in my YouTube channel which are linked above.

My pastor said we don’t need to confess our sins because they are all forgiven. Is this true?

My Pastor said we don’t need to confess our sins because they are all forgiven. Is this true? I think this is dangerous to say.

I don’t want to undermine the authority of pastors. If your pastor was here in the room with me, and we could discuss this, maybe it would come across a little differently. But based on what you wrote, I would disagree. I would say no, that’s wrong. Here’s an important passage on the topic:

1 John 1:8-10 – If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

I’m sure you’re in the same place that I am. I want His word to be in me. John makes it very plain throughout the context of 1 John, that this epistle was written to believers, not unbelievers. 1 John was not written as an evangelistic tract. It’s written to believers about how they can live in true fellowship with God. In 1 John 1:9, we see very plainly that believers should be confessing their sin. There is also the instruction in James 5:16 to, “Confess your sins to one another, and be healed.” So, I would disagree with your pastor.

The point is that we don’t have to confess a sin specifically for it to be covered by the blood of Jesus, because there’s no way that you or I or anybody else could confess every single sin we’ve ever committed. I don’t think we could confess every single sin we commit in a single day, much less our whole life. The idea is not that we need to confess every single sin we’ve ever committed. What John and James are getting at is that we should confess our sins as we become aware that they are interfering with our fellowship with God. That gives us a great reason to confess our sin and to come into a place of restored fellowship. It is possible for a person to be born again and be on their way to heaven, and yet for a season, their fellowship with God is not what it should be. That’s what 1 John was really written to address.

Maybe your pastor is thinking more strictly in terms of salvation. But salvation is not the only issue here. Christians aren’t only concerned with “How do I get to heaven?” They’re concerned with “How do I honor God as a disciple of Jesus Christ?” Part of that includes confessing our sin and keeping ourselves in right relationship with God.

How was Jesus tempted if God cannot be tempted? (James 1:13, Matthew 4:1)

James 1:13 says God can’t be tempted, and Matthew 4:1 says Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted. Help!

James 1:13 – Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

Matthew 4:1 – Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Here’s the simple answer. Jesus was God, but He was also human. It was the humanity of Jesus that was tempted, not His divinity. It’s possible for a person to drive such a division between the humanity and the deity of Jesus, that they’re trying to claim He was two people. But He wasn’t two people; He was one person. There was nothing in the deity of Jesus that could be tempted at all. But Jesus was not only divine. He was also human. In a very basic sense, I would say that Jesus was tempted in His humanity, not in His deity.

Should we call out the church for not living by Scripture (sins of omission)?

Should we be able to call out the church for not living by Scripture? In other words, having the ability to help, not just say “I’ll pray for you.” Could unwillingness to do this be a sin of commission, or would that be omission?

If a person has the opportunity to do good but doesn’t do it, that’s a sin of omission. If a person is obligated to do good and doesn’t do it, that would be more a sin of commission, mingled with a bit of omission. You seem to be referring to a specific situation which would require a lot more information for me to give an adequate answer.

Should we call out the church for not living biblically? Where a church fails scripturally, it’s fair enough to point it out. But we must understand and accept that it may also be happening in our personal lives, too. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us very specifically that we should never judge anyone else by a standard that we would not want to be judged by, because God will judge us by the same standard by which we judge others.

The biggest problem is when people are very hard on others and very easy on themselves. They’re full of understanding and accommodation and appreciation when it comes to themselves and their own sins and failings, but they tend to be very harsh and dogmatic and “by the book” when it comes to the sins of other people. We can obviously see that’s a problem. But is it possible and sometimes appropriate for a believer to call out the church for not living by Scripture? Absolutely, it is.

You also asked about having the ability to help, but only saying, “I’ll pray for you.” That very well could be a sin. But the Bible is clear that financial support given by the church needs to be given out judiciously. It’s absolutely fair to examine the life, morality, and conduct of those whom the church would support on a regular basis. I have no idea whether the situation you refer to falls into those categories. In principle, what you’re talking about is true. But how those principles get applied depends on the situation.

Will a miscarried child go to heaven?

When a pregnancy ends very early on day 12 weeks, is it correct to say that the child is in heaven? I don’t know why, but for some reason I have difficulty answering that question.

In the Bible, we read that David’s newborn son died, and that David was confident he would see that child in heaven. I do believe that children who die by miscarriage, in infancy, or in early childhood up to an age of accountability go to heaven, but not because they are innocent. That’s the important thing to recognize. No, we are born guilty in Adam’s sin. The goodness of God’s grace which gave David the ability to confidently say that he would see his newborn who died in heaven is not on the basis of the newborn being innocent. It’s on the basis of the greatness of God’s mercy, and also that the person never made a conscious rejection of God and His saving work for them. They don’t go to heaven because they are innocent, but rather because of the greatness and the mercy of God.

I’ll say one more thing. We have a greater assurance of this for believers than we do for non-believers. I could not confidently tell someone who has not believed in God, and who is not part of God’s family, that they’ll see their baby in heaven. I could say it confidently to a believer, but I could only say it hopefully to an unbeliever. But I could confidently say, based on what Paul writes by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 7:14, that the children are sanctified by a believing parent.

Should we take 1 Corinthians 14:34 literally, that “women are not to speak in the church”?

1 Corinthians 14:34 say “for women are not to speak in the church.” Isn’t this speaking to the church in Corinth, such that it isn’t meant to be read literally by us these days?

Read my commentary on 1 Corinthians 14 here.

I think that this passage is best seen as Paul speaking to women that, because they’re not part of the leadership of the church, they should be silent when it comes to judging prophecy in their midst. That’s the context of 1 Corinthians 14. I do not believe that 1 Corinthians 14 was a prohibition of women speaking in the church at all. Can you imagine a greeting time in the church? “I’m sorry, I can’t speak. I’m not supposed to say anything at church.” That’s not the idea.

If you look at the context in 1 Corinthians 14, it’s clear that women should be silent when it comes to the judging of prophecy. Interestingly, Paul made the allowance that if prophetic gifts were exercised at a house meeting, women could exercise those gifts, but they could not be part of the judging of the prophecy, because that’s for something for God to do through His appointed offices of bishop or overseer, elder, and pastor.

Could you please explain Mark 16:18? Was snake handling only for people in biblical times?

Could you please explain Mark 16:18? I know many churches in the South use snake handling as part of their worship, was this message/provision only for people back in biblical times?

Mark 16:17-18 – “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

No, I believe that the sense of this verse is valid for today. I’m going to leave aside the textual question of whether or not those verses belong in the New Testament.

We see a fulfillment of this principle in Acts 28. This happened within the context of Paul doing his apostolic, evangelistic church planting work. Paul ends up on the island of Malta and gets bitten by a snake, but he shakes it off and is not affected, even though it was a dangerous viper. God was saying, “I will give a supernatural protection to those who are out on the frontlines spreading the gospel.” Now, it’s not that no harm could ever come to them, because history shows there have been martyrs for the gospel. Many missionary graveyards around the world are filled with people who have laid down their lives for the sake of the gospel.

In Mark 16:18, God was saying, “I’m going to bless and give some measure of protection to those who are out on the frontlines spreading the gospel.” I think we see the fulfillment of that principle with what happened in Acts 28, and continuing on in church history. Check out my commentary on Mark 16.