The Kingdom of Heaven,
The Kingdom of God
and The Church
Pastor W. S. Hottel
It is not an uncommon thing to hear men speak of the “Kingdom of Heaven,” the “Kingdom of God” and the “Church” as though they were one and the same thing. Indeed, this is almost constantly affirmed in certain religious circles. And the moment anyone dares to suggest that such is not the case, instantly there is raised a note of exceeding surprise if not of absolute protest. In very many instances, if the matter is insisted upon, sneers and scoff’s are the result. He will be told he evidently is one of those foolish dispensationalists, and will be scolded as being unsettled and visionary, and laughed at as being one of those dogmatic literalists. But never mind what particular attitude certain religious leaders may hold, we should earnestly seek to know what the Scriptures really teach upon any question, because what the Scriptures teach is the truth about any theme upon which they speak.
Is there any difference between the “Kingdom of Heaven,” the “Kingdom of God” and the “Church?” Yes, there certainly is. God means exactly what He says, and says exactly what He means. When He speaks about one thing, He does not mean another. These different terms are never used in Scripture in a purposeless manner, neither are they ever used interchangeably. Each one of these terms has its own peculiar meaning and gives expression to its own particular teaching. This fact will be disclosed by the careful examination of each one of these terms.
The Greek word translated “Kingdom” is “basileia,” pronounced “basilia.” It occurs in the New Testament about 162 times. It always denotes sovereignty. The discerning student will discover that the New Testament speaks of various kingdoms. It speaks of “the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 3:2); “the Kingdom of God” (Mark 1:15); “the Kingdom of the Father” (Matt. 13:43); “the Kingdom of the Son of Man” (Matt. 16:28); “the Kingdom of His dear Son” (Col. 1:13); “the everlasting Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (II Peter 1:11); and “the Kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ” (Rev. 11:15). In each there is reference to a sovereignty, the only difference being in the CHARACTER and the LOCATION.
The word translated “Church” in the New Testament is the Greek word “ekkleesia,” pronounced “ecclesia.” It is a compound word made up of “ek” out of; and “kaleo,” to call. It means called out ones. The Church then, according to the meaning of that term is constituted an assembly of called out ones. Holding in mind the meaning of the terms “Kingdom” and “Church” we shall be able to distinguish between the “Kingdom of Heaven,” the “Kingdom of God” and the “Church.”
I. The Kingdom of Heaven
The phrase “the Kingdom of Heaven” should read “the Kingdom of the Heavens.” This is the literal rendering from the Greek. It is a Kingdom of or from the Heavens.
The expression “the Kingdom of the Heavens” occurs only in Matthew, where it is found at least thirty-two times. It is characteristic of Matthew’s Gospel, as being especially in harmony with the purpose of that Gospel.
The special purpose of Matthew under God is to write about The King and the Kingdom foretold by the Old Testament Prophets whose prophecies about The King and the Kingdom were but an expansion of the covenant God had made with King David. In Matthew Christ is pictured as the Righteous King. We find this fact disclosed in the opening verse of this Gospel, which reads: “The Book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1).
According to this passage, Matthew writes about Jesus Christ as the One connected with the Davidic Covenant of Kingship, and the Abrahamic Covenant of promise (II Sam. 7: 8-16; Gen. 15:18). And he follows the order indicated in this first verse of his Gospel, writing first about the King, the Seed of David; and after that the Son of Abraham, obedient unto death, after the type of Isaac the Son of promise (Gen. 22:1-18). This accounts for the fact that the phrase “the Kingdom of the Heavens” is found in the first part of Matthew’s Gospel. When the rejection of Christ as King is clearly in evidence, the Cross begins to loom and the Kingdom is more or less in the background, so that this phrase is found only a very few times in the latter part of this Gospel.
We observe that the term “Kingdom” is not used in Scripture without denoting its actuality only by virtue of the presence of a king. That is to say, there cannot be a kingdom without a king. A king is a necessity to a kingdom. There is, therefore, in Scripture no recognition of an actual kingdom without the presence of an actual king. If there is no king a country is not a kingdom. Wherever the “public” is sovereign, that country is a “republic.” The fact that Christ is spoken of in Scripture and recognized as the King, manifestly presupposes that He must have a Kingdom, a place and sphere of rule. Matthew, therefore, in writing about Christ as the King introduces also “the Kingdom of the Heavens.”
It is called “the Kingdom of the Heavens” because it is to be set up by “the God of the heavens”, as we learn from Daniel 2:44, where we read: “In the days of these kings shall the God of Heaven set up a Kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the Kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” In these words we find disclosed the origin of this Kingdom, the time when it shall be set up, the particular manner of its setting up, and its abiding continuity. Christ’s sovereignty is not out of the present world-system, a development and transformation of it, but it comes from Heaven, because He came from thence. We have His own word for this, when He says, “My Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). The phrase “the Kingdom of the Heavens” means Messiah’s Kingdom on earth, during which time there will be Heavenly sovereignty over the earth.
This expression is found the first time in Matthew’s Gospel, in chapter 3, verses 1 and 2. Here “the Kingdom of the Heavens” is announced as being “at hand,” or more literally, “hath drawn nigh.” This language was perfectly in order because He, the King, had come and was soon to present Himself to the nation of Israel. Because the nation rejected and crucified Christ the King, the manifestation of the earthly Kingdom is postponed, and is now in abeyance until the King shall be sent back from Heaven (Acts 3:20). In the meanwhile “the Kingdom of the Heavens” is in mystery form (Matt. 13).
II. The Kingdom of God.
As we have previously inferred, Matthew alone uses the phrase “the Kingdom of the Heavens,” because it is in harmony with the purpose of his Gospel. But he also uses the term “the Kingdom of God,” however, only five times (Matt. 6:33; 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43).
Mark, Luke and John do not use the phrase “the Kingdom of the Heavens” at all. They use only the term “the Kingdom of God.” This is a rather interesting fact. And it is very significant as well.
We need to remember that the four Gospel records each present a different picture of our Lord Jesus Christ and His earthly ministry. They all write of the same Person, but each presents a distinctive view and sets forth a special phase of His ministry. There is a harmony of the Gospels, and yet a diversity. If God had intended that there be but one Gospel record He would have given us but one. Instead He has given us FOUR distinct presentations of Christ.
Each one of the Gospel writers was led of the Holy Spirit to write what was in line with the purpose of his record, and to omit what was out of harmony with the purpose of his record. So, likewise, each Gospel writer was led of the Holy Spirit to use certain terms and phrases that were in harmony with the particular presentation he was writing, and to omit the terms and phrases out of harmony with that presentation. It is very important that this fact be carefully observed and constantly remembered, because the enemies of the Bible constantly refer to these omissions and differences as being discrepancies and errors. They use them as arguments against the teaching of the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures, while, however, they are the rather a strong argument in its favor.
While Matthew presents Jesus Christ as the Righteous King, Mark presents Him as the Servant-Son, the Faithful Servant of Jehovah. As Servant He is presented in His humble relationship and responsibility unto God. Cf. Philippians 2:6-8. Mark’s presentation of Christ is that of the Servant of God. He, therefore, uses the phrase, “the Kingdom of God.” The scope of it is larger. Luke presents Christ as the Son of Man and so as the Ideal Man. John presents Him as very God. In Luke and John the scope is the same as in Mark. Hence when they refer to the Kingdom at all, it is in the term “the Kingdom of God.”
The phrase, “the Kingdom of the Heavens,” used by Matthew, is used in a special, limited, and exclusive and national sense; while the phrase, “the Kingdom of God,” used by the other Gospel writers is an expression used in a more general, unlimited, inclusive and universal sense. The Kingdom of God is universal, including all moral intelligences willingly subject to the will of God, whether angels, the saints in the past ages, the Church of the present age, or the saints of future ages. It is spiritual and inorganic, and is entered by the new birth. The Kingdom of the Heavens is the earthly sphere of the Kingdom of God, and it is a literal and an organic Kingdom. The Kingdom of the Heavens will finally merge into the Kingdom of God (I Cor. 15:24-28). It is therefore also included in the Kingdom of God.
III. The Church.
The Church is a called out assembly of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, and is united with the crucified, risen, ascended and enthroned Christ in the Glory. She is therefore a Heavenly company of people, possessing Heavenly relationships. Heavenly blessings, Heavenly hopes and prospects, and looking forward to a Heavenly glory.
The Church is composed of the whole number of regenerated persons from Pentecost to the first resurrection, united together and to Christ by the baptism in the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12:12,13). She is the spiritual and mystical Body of Christ of which He is the Head (Eph. 1:22, 23). She is not an institution neither an organization, but a spiritual and a living organism.
As such, the Church is “one flesh” with Christ (Eph. 5:30,31), and espoused to Him as a chaste virgin to one husband (II Cor. 11:2-4).
The Church is also an holy temple for an habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2:21,22).
We observe that the Church is never in Scripture spoken of as a Kingdom, neither is Christ ever recognized as the King of the Church. To speak of the Church as a Kingdom and of Christ as the King of the Church is unscriptural, because the Scriptures do not teach it. All such teaching has its foundation and source in the spiritualizing of the Scriptures.
The Church has no relation with the Kingdom of the Heavens, save that, when the Kingdom will be manifest and set up in the earth, at the Return of Christ back to the earth, the Church will be with Him and will share His earthly reign and glory (Rev. 19:11; 20:5; II Tim. 2:11,12; Rev. 3:21; 5:9,10; 20: 4-6).
The Church is related with the Kingdom of God in the sense that she is in it, but she is not the Kingdom of God. The names and appellatives of “the Church” are never used of the Kingdom (Eph. 1:23; 2:21; 4:4,16; 5:30; Col. 1:24; I Tim. 3:15). The word “basileia” “(basilia)” translated “kingdom,” occurs many times over in the New Testament, but it never refers to the Church. The Kingdom denotes a sovereignty, a rule, while the Church is the Body of Christ, a living organism. The Church and the Kingdom have no relation whatsoever, the one with the other.
It is therefore a great error to use the word CHURCH synonymously with the word KINGDOM. The meaning of these terms is as wide apart as the poles. The KINGDOM is not the CHURCH, and the CHURCH is not the KINGDOM.
It is also erroneous to speak of “The advancement of the Kingdom,” “The spread of the Kingdom,” “The promulgation of the Kingdom,” and “The extension of the Kingdom.” A little sober reflection will reveal the unscripturalness of all such talk. As we have seen, the Kingdom of God, which is the Kingdom over all is in existence throughout all time, but it is spiritual and inorganic. It cannot possibly be advanced, spread, promulgated nor extended. The Kingdom of the Heavens, the earthly Kingdom of the Messiah, is not yet SET UP, but it is in mystery form since Christ the King was rejected and crucified and during the time of the outgathering of the Church. It will be SET UP at the Return of the Lord Jesus Christ back to this earth (Acts 3:20; 15:14-17). It not being SET UP as yet, cannot possibly be advanced, spread, promulgated nor extended. All such expressions are therefore unscriptural.
In conclusion let me say that when God’s people learn to give heed to Paul’s admonition to Timothy in the words, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (II Tim. 2:15), the Bible becomes a new Book to them and their service for the Lord takes on a new beauty and brings an added joy.