It’s important to remind ourselves what we mean by this Reign of God. Sometimes it’s called the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, but the Reign of God is really the best terminology because when you say Kingdom of God or Kingdom or Heaven, you think of a place. That isn’t what Jesus is talking about. When He began His public life, He said, “The Reign of God is at hand. Change your lives.” It’s something that we can enter into, a relationship, if we change our lives. One Scripture commentator has described the Reign of God as the dynamic rule of God’s saving or healing love, that which makes us whole and all that we can be. That’s the Reign of God.
Philip P. Kapusta
The term “Kingdom of Heaven” occurs 31 times in Matthew. It is noteworthy that it appears nowhere else in the New Testament.
In contrast, the term “Kingdom of God” occurs 63 times in the New Testament, 9 times in Acts and Paul’s epistles, only 5 times in Matthew – the balance being found in Mark, Luke and John.
As to why Matthew preferred “kingdom of heaven” to “kingdom of God,” the explanation has long been that Matthew, writing to specifically Jewish readers, inserted “heaven” for “God” so as not to offend the Jewish sensibilities regarding uttering the name of God or the term that describes Him. This is probably correct, but it leaves us with no explanation for the 5 times Matthew failed to make the switch, or for why he uses “God” in over 50 other instances.
Nonetheless … if you compare the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – you will find that Matthew’s “kingdom of heaven” exactly parallels Mark’s and Luke’s “kingdom of God.” So there is no doubt that they are different terms describing the same thing. The “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” are synonymous. Having established this truth, we still are left with the question, “What is the Kingdom of Heaven/God?”…
The Kingdom of Heaven is not the same thing as heaven. When the New Testament uses the phrase “the Kingdom of Heaven” it is not referring to heaven. Instead it is referring to the Millennial Kingdom which has been ordained from heaven, that is, from God – hence the interchangeability between “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Kingdom of God.” Unfortunately too many people have heard a great deal of preaching and teaching about heaven as the hope of a Christian and consequently think that “the Kingdom of Heaven” and “heaven” are the same. They are not.
The Kingdom of Heaven is a kingdom from heaven, not a kingdom in heaven. God reigns supreme in heaven. Heaven is the locus of His authority – the point from which He rules the universe. The words “of heaven” then are referring to the origin of this Kingdom. It is the place from which the Kingdom is coming, not a destination to which we are going. So we see that although the Kingdom of Heaven is heavenly in character and origin, it is not the same thing as heaven. To avoid the confusion between heaven and the Kingdom of Heaven, and since the term “Kingdom of God” occurs much more frequently in the Bible, it is the “Kingdom of God” that is preferred when describing the future kingdom in which Jesus will reign as king.
The “Kingdom of God” is the master-term in Jesus’ presentation of the Christian faith. It is his constant slogan, the concept around which all of his discourse revolves. “Kingdom of God” is the phrase in which the genius of the faith is concentrated. Jesus bared his mind and the fundamental intention of his whole career as prophet, rabbi and Son of God with these precious words, which should be indelibly written on the hearts of his followers: “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43).