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"Kingdom of God" or "Kingdom of Heaven"?


Many pages of opinions have been written about the terms “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven.” Some say they mean the same thing, others say they mean different things and few say they have very mysterious meanings. Two questions will help us discover what Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven mean:

1. Is there a cultural connection between the words “God” and “Heaven”?

2. In which books of the New Testament do the terms appear?

The answer to the second question is the “kingdom of God” occurs 68 times in 10 different New Testament books. The “kingdom of Heaven” occurs only 32 times in the New Testament and that is only in the Gospel of Matthew. Below are examples of saying of Yeshua that are duplicated in Matthew and another Gospel.

Matthew 4:17
Mark 1:14-15
From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Matthew 5:3
Luke 6:20
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Most scholars agree that the author of Matthew was writing for a Jewish audience with a Jewish culture that recognized that “Heaven” was a euphemism for the Hebrew word elohiym (god) and the four-letter Hebrew word that is the name of the Jewish god, YHVH.

A euphemism is a figure of speech by which a softened, indirect expression is substituted for a word or phrase offensive to delicate ears though more accurately expressive of what is meant. There are a number of euphemisms in the Hebrew Scriptures that are used for things like dying, genitals, sex, cursing, etc.  

In the Jewish culture observant Jews used the euphemism “Heaven” to avoid breaking this commandment:

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. (Exodus 20:7)

Two additional examples of this also appear in Luke and both are in the sayings of Yeshua. The first is found in the parable of the Prodigal Son:

 Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you . . .” (Luke 15:18)

The prodigal son was speaking to father. The second example is found in a question Yeshua asked the Pharisees:

“The baptism of John — was it from Heaven or from men?” (Luke 20:4)

Conclusion:

Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven are names of the same thing. In the Gospel of Matthew, the target audience was Jewish, and the author used Kingdom of Heaven. In the other books of the New Testament the target audiences included many non-Jews, who would not have known that “Heaven” was a euphemism, so the authors used Kingdom of God. However, even though the two terms are names of the same thing, it is very important to know that first century Jewish sects had very different beliefs about what the kingdom is, who will be in it, and when it will appear. We will discuss those differences in future blogs.
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