Study of Important Biblical Distinctions - 13 - THE CHURCH AND THE KINGDOM

A Study of Important Biblical Distinctions
By William MacDonald 


It will probably come as a surprise to many readers to learn that the Church is not the same as the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven.  In Christendom at large the Church and the kingdom are usually taken as synonymous.  But failure to distinguish them leads to serious problems in both doctrine and practice.
    In the last chapter we discussed the Church at some length and therefore it is not necessary to go over that material again.  It is enough to remind ourselves that the Church is a unique society, unlike any other in God's dealings with mankind.  Christ is the Head and all believers are members.  Distinctions of race. social status, and sex are abolished in Christ; all become one in Him.  The Church began at Pentecost and will be completed at the Rapture.  It is spoken of as the body and bride of Christ, and is destined to reign with Him in His Kingdom and to share His glory eternally.
    But what about the kingdom of heaven?
    The kingdom of heaven is the sphere in which God's rule is acknowledged.  The word heaven is used figuratively to denote God; this is clearly shown in Daniel 4:25, 26.  In verse 25, Daniel said that the Most High rules the kingdom of men.  In the very next verse he says that heaven rules.  Thus the kingdom of heaven announces the rule of God, which exists wherever men submit to that rule.
    There are two aspects of the kingdom of heaven.  The broadest aspect includes everyone who merely professes to acknowledge God as the Supreme Ruler.  But its inner aspect includes only people who have been genuinely converted.  We may picture this by two concentric circles, a small one inside a large one.

concentric circles


    The large circle is the sphere of profession; it includes the true and the false, the wheat and the tares.  The inner circle includes only those who have been born again through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
    By a comparison of all the Biblical references to the kingdom, we can trace its historical development in five distinct phases.
    First of all, the kingdom was prophesied in the Old Testament.  Daniel predicted that God would set up a kingdom that would never be destroyed and that would never yield its sovereignty to another people (Dan. 2:44).  He also foresaw the coming of Christ and His universal and everlasting dominion (Dan. 7:13, 14; see also Jer. 23:5, 6).
    Second, the kingdom was described as being at hand and present in the Person of the King.  First, John the Baptist, then The Lord Jesus, then the disciples announced that the kingdom was at hand (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7).  The King had arrived to present Himself to the nation of Israel.  The Lord Jesus said..........     if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt. 12:28 NASB).  On another occasion He said..........  the kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Luke 17:21 RSV).  It was present because the King had arrived on the scene. (While the last two references deal with the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of heaven, we shall show later that the two terms are used interchangeably in the New Testament.)
    Third, the kingdom is described in an interim form.  After He was rejected by the nation of Israel, the King returned to heaven.  The kingdom exists today in the hearts of all who acknowledge His kingship while the King is absent, and the moral and ethical principles of the kingdom are applicable to us today.  This interim phase of the kingdom is described in the parables of Matthew 13.
    The fourth phase of the kingdom is its manifestation.  This is the literal, thousand-year reign of Christ on earth.  It was foreshadowed on the Mount of Transfiguration, when the Lord was seen in the glory of His coming reign (Matt. 16:28).  The Lord Jesus referred to this kingdom when He said, "Many shall come from the east and west and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 8:11).
    The fifth and final form will be the everlasting kingdom.  It is described in 2 Peter 1:11 as "the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
    The phrase "kingdom of heaven" is found only in Matthew's Gospel.  The term "kingdom of God" is found in all four Gospels.  For all practical purposes there is no difference; the same things are said about both.  For example, in Matthew 19:23 The Lord Jesus said it would be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  In Mark 10:23 and Luke 18:24 The Lord Jesus is quoted as saying the same thing with regard to the kingdom of God.  Then Matthew also quotes The Lord Jesus as saying virtually the same thing with regard to the kingdom of God (compare Matt. 19:23, 24).
    Other passages in which the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are used interchangeably are:

    We mentioned that the kingdom of heaven has an outward aspect and an inner reality.  The same is true of the kingdom of God.  This may be demonstrated as follows:

Kingdom of Heaven Kingdom of God 
In its outward aspect it includes all who are genuine subjects of the King, and also those who merely profess allegiance to Him.  This is seen in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:3-11), the parable of the grain of mustard seed (Matt. 13:31, 32), and the parable of the leaven (Matt. 13:33). It too includes the real and the false.  This is seen in the parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-10), the parable of the grain of mustard seed (Luke 13:18, 19), and the parable of the leaven (Luke 13:20, 21). 
As to its true, inward reality, the kingdom of heaven can be entered only by those who are converted (Matt. 18:3). As to its true, inward reality, the kingdom of God can be entered only by those who are born again (John 3:3, 5). 

    Paul was referring to its inward reality when he said that "the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Rom. 14:17).  He also emphasized that "the kingdom of God is not in word but in power" (1 Cor. 4:20).
    The distinction between the kingdom and the Church may be seen in the following: The kingdom began when Christ initiated His public ministry; the Church began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).  The kingdom will continue on earth till the earth is destroyed; the Church will continue on earth only until the Rapture; then it will return with Christ at His Second Advent to reign with Him as His bride.  At the present time the people who are in the kingdom in its true, inner reality are also in the Church; this is the only respect in which the two overlap.