The kingdom of heaven is that kingdom on God’s earth in which heaven is interested, which heaven promotes, with Christ as its King. It is that spiritual kingdom on earth which acts as the portal for and leads to heaven. It prepares its citizens for heaven by leading to faith in Jesus Christ as the Lord from heaven.
The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God
The Lord Jesus Christ introduced many new concepts to the attention and understanding of the Christian Church and ‘the kingdom of heaven’ is one of them. Only the Gospel of Matthew uses this term. As a tax collector, who wrote things down rather than relying on memory, Matthew was the only Gospel writer who noted Jesus’ distinctive use of ‘the kingdom of heaven’ and ‘the kingdom of God’. Many preachers and biblical commentators do not understand the distinction.
The ‘kingdom’ draws attention to the fact that the King had arrived on Earth Mk 1:14. The qualification ‘of heaven’ distinguishes it from ‘the kingdom of God’, which does not come with observation Lk 17:20. The qualification ‘of heaven’ reminds us that it is not an earthly kingdom Jn 18:36 but it is a kingdom which reaches to heaven, which brings the King’s subjects to heaven, and in which heaven is interested.
This kingdom is not of this world. One can be in the kingdom of heaven but not of the kingdom of heaven, just as Jesus was in this world, but not of this world Jn 8:23, and a ship is in the water but not of the water.
In the kingdom of heaven, the Gospel is preached to all who hear it. The seed falls on different types of ground, sometimes producing no fruit Mat 13:4, sometimes temporary fruit Mat 13:6-7 and sometimes lasting, abundant and variable amounts of spiritual fruit Mat 13:8.
It is Christ’s kingdom which will be purified of those who do not respond to the Gospel, which He will yet deliver spotless and faultless to His Father on the Day of Judgment Mat 13:41,43, 1Cor 15:24 and Heb 2:13.
On the other hand, all of those in the kingdom of God are born again by the Holy Spirit of God Jn 3:3,5, producing holy fruit Rom 6:22 that lasts for ever 1Pe 1:23.
Theologically, the kingdom of heaven is known as the visible Church, to distinguish it from the invisible Church, which is known in Scripture as the kingdom of God. The similarity in terms is because of the similarity in concept and identity; the difference in terminology teaches and highlights that most fundamental of doctrines – ‘you must be born again’ Jn 3:3,5 in order to be in the kingdom of God.