The Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God
Let us review the things we have already seen previously concerning the kingdom of heaven. After the birth of Christ, there comes one who prepares the way for Him. His name is John, and he proclaims that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The Lord, together with the apostles whom He sends forth, announce the same news. What does it mean? Later on, as noted in chapters 8 and 9, we see that the Lord heals the sick and casts out demons, and that all these are closely related to the nearness of the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5-7 speaks of the nature of the kingdom of heaven: which is, that those who belong to this kingdom are absolutely righteous towards themselves, absolutely gracious towards others, and absolutely pure towards God. In Matthew 10 we learn that the Lord sends out His apostles. And in Matthew 11-12 we see that a great transition begins occurring, as though the kingdom of heaven is now being taken away from the Jews.
Now with regard to the kingdom of heaven found spoken of in Matthew 13, some interpreters have asserted that the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are the kingdom of heaven in mystery. Such an assertion is logically unsound when it is held up against all the things which we have just seen: how that both John and the Lord as well as His disciples proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, how that the Lord then announces the nature or character of this kingdom, and how after He is rejected by the children of Israel He in the thirteenth chapter is found declaring only the outward boundary of this kingdom (what we see in this age being but the outward appearance). So that chapter 13 does not deal with the character or nature of the kingdom of heaven, for this has already been described in Matthew 5-7.
Some, on the other hand, contend that all who desire to enter the kingdom of heaven mentioned in chapter 13 must possess the character of the kingdom of heaven as laid down in chapters 5-7. This interpretation again is impossible to accept, since in chapter 13 we have presented the tares, the leaven, and so forth as being in the kingdom of heaven. So that this chapter presents to us nothing but the outward appearance of the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom of heaven is not the millennial kingdom; it is the reigning in the millennial kingdom. Let us see that the kingdom of heaven has three different aspects.
(1) An outward appearance, boundary, or scope as is shown to us in Matthew 13.
(2) A spiritual reality, that is to say, a kind of spiritual conduct which is formed as a result of learning righteousness and grace progressively under the authority of God and which is elucidated for us in Matthew 5-7; and
(3) A reigning with Christ in the future millennial kingdom as revealed in the fact of our future reward as told to us in Matthew 5-7.
Accordingly, we must first of all enter into the sphere or boundary of this kingdom of heaven by being sons of the kingdom; then secondly, we need to have the kind of conduct described for us in Matthew 5-7 – which is to have real spiritual conduct; and lastly, as a consequence we may reign with the Lord.
Today there are three different kinds of people:
(1) those who have entered within the sphere of the kingdom of heaven and yet unsaved; these are represented by tares.
(2) those who have been saved and are in the domain of the kingdom of heaven, ye they fail to keep the teaching of Matthew 5-7.
(3) those who are saved and also keep the teaching of Matthew 5-7; they truly overcome, and therefore in the future they shall reign with the Lord in the third stage or aspect of the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are distinguishable but are not separable. Let us consider in some detail these two descriptive phrases found in Scriptures.
(1) With certain parables Matthew employs the statement “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto . . . “; but Luke uses the words “The kingdom of God is like. . . . “ for the same parables – thus indicating that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are one and the same. Both the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven in these parallel instances refer to the outward domain of the kingdom. On this level, it can be said that the outward appearances of both the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are alike. Parables such as that of the leaven belong to this category.
(2) Yet the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are not synonymous with respect to the second aspect of the kingdom of heaven, inasmuch as what is described in Matthew 5-7 speaks of actual overt behavior whereas “the kingdom of God is righteous and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14.17). The one stresses spiritual conduct; the other inner spiritual condition.
(3) Even so, in the third aspect of the kingdom of heaven is again similar to the kingdom of God since both refer to the matter of reigning during the millennial kingdom.
Though the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven are similar as regards the first aspect, the kingdom of God covers also the time of which the prophets in the Old Testament speak – for whenever the sovereignty of God is present, His domain is there at the same time. But this characteristic is not applicable to the kingdom of heaven.
With regard to the third aspect, it is true that the kingdom of God is the same as the kingdom of heaven in that both refer to ruling with Christ in the millennium; yet the kingdom of God extends further on into eternity since in eternity God also reigns – but by that time the kingdom of heaven will have passed away. With respect to the third aspect, therefore, the kingdom of God exists longer than the kingdom of heaven.
In certain sense it can be said that the kingdom of God includes the kingdom of heaven, but not vic versa.
So far as the outward official history of the church on earth goes today, there can be said to be the Roman Catholic Church, the national churches, and the private churches. The Roman Catholic Church claims that the entire world is under her domain and that no national church is therefore allowed. The national church such as the Anglican Church asserts that every citizen of the nation belongs to the Church. But due to dissatisfaction with the national churches, there came into being the so-called private churches.
As regards to the outward sphere, as long as people say they are Christians, no one can drive them out of the kingdom of heaven; for the Lord has not promised to weed out the tares today. At communion or the Lord’s Table or the breaking of bread, however, the church may indeed weed out or separate the unsaved and the wicked from the saved ones. So that in the outward appearance of the kingdom of heaven, such as in a national church, unbelieving people may be included therein, but in the sphere of the believing assembly an unsaved person may be excluded from fellowship. This clarifies the two totally different spheres: that of the outward appearance of the kingdom of heaven and that of the church. Within the boundary of the outward appearance of the kingdom of heaven there may be tares; but within the churches the body of Christ there is only wheat no tares. (The King and the Kingdom of Heaven, CFP white cover, 140-143, by Watchman Nee.)