The Difference Between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven

"The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand." Mark 1:14

"The Difference Between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven" by Steppes of Faith

“The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand.” Mark 1:14

The phrase “kingdom of God” is used 68 times throughout the New Testament. As a comparison, “kingdom of heaven” is only used 32 times and found exclusively in the book of Matthew. Many (in fact, very many) theories exist about the difference between the “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven,” and some even say they are the same thing. It seems there is no one, straight forward answer.

Why would the other New Testament writers use “kingdom of God,” but Matthew only uses “kingdom of heaven?” Is there a difference between the two terms at all?

Let’s examine a few of these theories and why Matthew may have written his book the way he did.

Vine’s View of the Kingdoms

A very clear description of “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” (which I will abbreviate as KG and KH, respectively) is found in Vine’s Expository Bible Dictionary. According to Vine’s, the two are not the same.

KG is the realm where God exists in complete authority, full of righteousness and holiness, and where His rule is acknowledged in the hearts of believers. Vine’s goes on to say that God is the antithesis of man and the world. So, the KG indicates all of God’s rule, which has a moral and spiritual force that man does not have outside of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives.

Vine's Expository Dictionary supports the idea that the kingdom of heaven is the direct opposite of the earth, which is full of sin.

The KH, on the other hand, is meant more as a distinction from the earth. One is holy, and one is not and will remain that way until Jesus’ triumphant return in power and glory when heaven and earth will finally become one. Until then, heaven is limited in its relation to the earth.

Vine’s also explains that God is not the equivalent of heaven. God is everywhere, but heaven is not. Though the KH is always the KG, the kingdom of God is never limited to the kingdom of heaven. At least for now.

To sum it up, the KG is the opposite of man, and the KH is the opposite of the earth. So, when we read about the KG in the New Testament, the Bible is describing God’s overarching authority and His universal kingdom. The kingdom of heaven, on the other hand, is the opposite of the earth and the sin the earth contains. Therefore, the KH must refer to the coming millennial kingdom.

Scofield’s View of the Kingdoms

Scofield Study Bible supports the idea that the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven are two different things.

The Scofield Reference Bible makes five distinctions between the KH and the KG, but they boil down to two main points.

First, the KG is made of only believers, both human and angelic, who willingly subject themselves to God’s authority. The KH is made only of humans who profess God, whether they are actual believers or not.

Second, the KG is eternal and spiritual in nature, while the KH is temporary and physical.

Both of these ideas relate to what’s called dispensational theology, which we won’t get into here. But they can quickly be dismissed if you believe the KG and the KH are one and the same.

The Theory of Similarity

Most theories say KG and KH are the same thing. We find the best example in Matthew 19: 23-24.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.’ Again, I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Here, Jesus uses KG and KH synonymously. Likewise, the apostles Luke and Mark use KG while Matthew used KH when they wrote about the exact same parable. So, it appears the two phrases are interchangeable.

Know Your Audience

A supporting idea to this theory of similarity is that the book of Matthew was written primarily for a Jewish audience. In the Jewish faith, any attempt at using God’s name in any way is a sin because it’s very likely you will get it wrong. This is why you might sometimes see references to God in Jewish texts as G*d or YHWH.

So when we talk about KG and KH, the idea goes that KH is merely a substitution for KG so that a devout Jew will not break the third commandment which says, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain (Exodus 20:7).” This is called the Circumlocution Theory.Marcus Jastrow wrote that the term "kingdom of heaven" was used by Daniel many years before Jesus came.

Author Marcus Jastrow stated in 1903 that the Aramaic translation of “heaven,” which is very much like the Hebrew translation, was commonly used as a substitution or nickname for God. He points out that Daniel wrote this way many years before Jesus ever walked the earth and that it is very likely the substitution was put into practice while the Israelites were still in Babylonian captivity. Which means substituting KH for KG was a very common part of the Jewish faith hundreds of years before Jesus came.

A final point is the KG is not commonly found in Jewish texts, but KH is frequently used, especially in literature that discusses the end times of the world. In fact, their text is much like the Messianic themes of the New Testament. Just as Jastrow asserted, the Jewish people were very familiar with the term “kingdom of heaven.”

If Matthew’s goal was to be as effective as possible in teaching Jews that Jesus really is the promised Messiah that the Old Testament prophesied, he very likely used terms the Jews fully understood while offering a way to talk about God without offending or violating any Jewish laws.

The Political Kingdom of God

Many Jews expected the Messiah to come as a political or military figure, someone who would come charging in and save them from Roman rule. So, when Jesus showed up, they were expecting Him to be a revolutionary or some kind of political rebel. Of course, Jesus ended up behaving very differently. But we know from the book of Revelation that He will indeed come charging in one day to assert His authority at His second coming (Revelation 19:11-16) bringing the full KG with Him.

At the same time, we know the KH will also come sometime in the future. It will be a literal kingdom ushered in by Jesus after the Father destroys the existing heaven and earth (Revelation 21:1).

In a slightly different perspective, some have theorized that the KG has already come because Jesus has already come (the first time), and the KH is still yet to come.

“Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe the gospel.” Mark 1:14

Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven?

So, which theory is correct? Are the KG and the KH the same thing or not?

Jesus' ascension back to the kingdom of God.

While Jesus indeed did walk the earth and brought a tiny slice of the KG with Him, we must remember He ascended again to the right hand of the Father (Acts 1:9) and that slice is no longer here with us. For the time being, His authority is contained in the KG with God the Father.

We also know the KH is not here because, quite frankly, the earth is running amok in sin. So, the coming of the KH is clearly something that will happen in the future.

While it seems both the KG and the KH have a few distinctions that make them unique, I’m inclined to agree with one author who says the KG and the KH are the same thing, but they will not be entirely the same until Jesus comes again and everything becomes as one. The KG and the KH will merge as Jesus establishes His kingdom on a new earth, and we who believe will be caught up with Him.

What a day, glorious day that will be.

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56 Replies to “The Difference Between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven”

  1. The argument for the Kingdom of Heaven and Kingdom of God being different seems to make sense in many ways as it clears up certain issues I won’t mention here. However, it is clear that Matthew uses KH where Mark & Luke use KG. One example is the sending out of the twelve (Matt 10 , Lk 9). Same story but different word. Also when Jesus starts preaching in Galilee after John in prison (Matt 4:17 vs Mark 1:14). So I see the attraction in making a distinction but also don;t want to make a distinction where the gospels don’t seem to.
    So I agree with your careful approach 🙂

  2. this is fantastic news, god word is the alpha and the omega,, it will be a glorious day when jesus rides across the heavens my simpliticy i like to think it will be like a giant plughole that when this happens all evil get pulled down a giant sinkhole as the armies of christ ride on to total victory, the KG And KH becoming one…cool!

  3. I listened to a preacher who simply differentiated the two.
    He said, the kingdom of God is the method, concept or ways while the kingdom of Heaven refers to the place, ‘the where.’ To enter the Kingdom of Heaven one must accept to live by the methods, principles of the Kingdom of God – which includes righteousness, holiness, faith, etc.
    What’s your view concerning this school of thought?

    • I would say the pastor was basically right. That’s a very simplified explanation. I find nothing wrong with it.

      • Thanks alot I have more insight about the topic now
        But something is confusing here if you say the KG is no longer with us here so why are we praying the Lord’s prayer and saying let thy kingdom come. Please explain kingdom come to where into our heart or the physical Earth. Thanks

        • When we ask for God’s kingdom to come, we are referring to the Day of the Lord when Jesus returns (Revelation 19). Then the kingdom of heaven will be eternally established. And those who are in Christ and have their names written in the Book of Life will enjoy being a part of it.

    • Agree. Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteous. If the Kingdom of God is not here. This world will be much more worse.

  4. THANK GOD for the clarification of the KG and KH. This will help me to preach this subject matter. God bless!

  5. Thanks a lot for the clarification. But what is the difference between Kingdom of GOD and Paradise?

    • Paradise in the Bible refers exclusively to heaven, which means the Kingdom of God and heaven itself is essentially the same thing. However, as someone who already commented, because of sin, God will destroy the heavens and the earth one day and recreate them. At that time, heaven and the Kingdom of God will become one in its perfection just as it was before Satan’s rebellion. I hope that helps. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Hi, love the article, thank you. An interesting spin on “paradise” is that it can refer to “Eden”. Or rather the restored Eden, after Jesus returns to set up the Kingdom. Also I had a question for you if you have time to respond: What’s the difference when bible authors just call it “the Kingdom” and don’t specify “of God” or “of Heaven”?

        • Though there may be a subtle difference between KH and KG, when the writers of the Bible refer to it simply as “the Kingdom,” they may be speaking of heaven in general, everything under God’s authority (which is everything), or just referring to His presence. It’s a colloquial term that encompasses a lot of who God is and what He controls. I hope that helps. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Who wrote this essay? I find it confusing. Which church do you represent?

    • Though I regularly attend one, I don’t represent a particular church. Every writing is based on deep, thoughtful theological research based in apologetics. How may I help you understand this topic better?

      • How bout we state it simply…kingdom of heaven implies the personal presence of the Lord Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God extends from eternity to eternity

  7. You do clearly with the backup of scripture explain the difference between the two but towards the end, you did kind of contradict your points, where you said, none of both kingdoms is present on earth today; and you said the chaos in the world prove so. Earlier on you said The KG is the Spiritual realm which only exists in the hearts of believers through the Holy Spirit, which suggests to me that we do have the KG here on earth today in the hearts of those who believe in the Lordship of Jesus Christ

    • Hi Andrew, I appreciate your comments.

      The kingdom of God is where His authority exists, but it is acknowledged by believers through the power of the Holy Spirit as He reveals it to us. The Holy Spirit does dwell within us, this is true, but it does not mean the kingdom of God follows. God’s authority does not exist within us, but we as believers acknowledge His power, and we respond appropriately through the moral and spiritual forces His power impresses upon us. We reflect that acknowledgment by obedience to His commands and by bearing good fruit.

      I hope this makes sense. It can be a complicated, and sometimes controversial, subject. But this is how I understand it from the extensive research and studying I have done. Thanks so much for reading. God bless!

    • I believe the Kingdom of God in earth‌ those believe in Christ, but the Kingdom of Heaven is the everlasting life with God in Heaven.

  8. I always thought that there is a difference between the KH and the KG but could not explain it until I read a few books on the subject. This is a new source of information and I am more comfortable with the distinction now.

  9. I always thought that there is a difference between the KH and the KG but could not explain it until I read a few books on the subject. This is a new source of information and I am more comfortable with the distinction now.

  10. WOW! I never gave this much thought, there clearly is a lot of possibilities. I agree with you in the overall, though I have a feeling this will play in my thoughts for a few weeks still. Thanks for sharing all this great info. 8)

      • Great help, I have gained clarity on this issue well done . God bless you Gina

    • Subsequently KG, KH, and Earth are all the same thing; well they are supposed to be-in essence. They are merely extensions of one another, only two realms of existence has known sin; Heaven and Earth. Which is why God will eventually destroy both and recreate them, then he will merge all 3 plains of existence together to be one.