What Is the Kingdom of Heaven?

Norbert Lieth

When we hear the term “kingdom of heaven,” we think automatically of the dimensions of heaven, the place where the Lord Jesus reigns at the right hand of the Father, and where we will go when we die. Even if this expectation is right in itself, the “kingdom of heaven” means something quite different.

The “kingdom of heaven” is the coming Messianic kingdom on earth—the kingdom of God in Jesus, the Messiah. It is less about heaven, but rather the kingdom of the One who came from heaven. As the “kingdom of heaven,” it only occurs in this form in the Gospel of Matthew; the other Gospels call it the kingdom of God. As Matthew addressed his Gospel to the Jews, and they were afraid to express the name of God, he used the general term “heaven” for God, just as Daniel did, “Hew the tree down, and destroy it; yet leave the stump of the roots thereof in the earth” (Daniel 4:23b; cf. 2:44). It is about the kingdom that will be ruled from heaven.

First, John the Baptist proclaimed it in Matthew 3:1-2. After that Jesus Himself proclaimed it in Matthew 4:17. Later, the disciples proclaimed it at the command of the Lord Jesus, accompanied by signs and wonders (Matthew 10:5-8). Finally, the Lord said, “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you” (Matthew 12:28). His casting out of devils and miracles proved that the kingdom of heaven had come in His person.

Then Israel rejected her Messiah and King. The kingdom of God took on another form at first, which is explained more clearly in Matthew 13. Jesus Christ ascended into heaven after His crucifixion and seated Himself at the right hand of God. The King is absent in order to reign spiritually and invisibly from heaven over those who believe in Him, the Church made up of Jews and Gentiles. But the Lord proclaimed in Matthew 13 that He will return at the end of this age to execute judgment, and to finally set up His earthly kingdom. This is why in the millennium of peace, Satan will actually be cast out in the sense of Matthew 12:28 and be taken captive (Revelation 20:1-4).

The kingdom of heaven, thus, is not the spiritual kingdom as the body of Christ, even if this at that time was already hidden in God. In the Gospel of Matthew it is firstly about the visible earthly kingdom of God, which the Old Testament prophets promised and the Jews awaited. This was the situation Jesus was speaking in. We should not interpret something in the “kingdom of heaven,” which at that time was His doctrine but not revealed. As someone wrote in Life Is More 2016, “We need to be willing to glean the truth from the Bible, and not to read into it our desires or traditions.”

The kingdom of heaven was prophesied in the Old Testament as the reign of God on earth from Israel (Daniel 2:44; 7:13-14; Isaiah chapters 2 and 11; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Zechariah 14). As the incarnate God and Messiah, Jesus had come near visibly and was present. The King and His kingdom, however, were rejected by the Jews (Matthew 12:24; Luke 19:14; John 19:15). From the visible kingdom of God on earth came the invisible kingdom in the hearts of those who believe in Jesus, the King of the kingdom (Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 4:20; 6:10; 15:50; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Timothy 4:18).  And the King and His kingdom will appear visibly at the completion of this age, when Jesus Christ returns in great power and glory and establishes His millennial kingdom on earth (Matthew 13:30, 49; 2 Timothy 4:1; Revelation 11:15; 12:10; 14:14-20; 19:6; 20:1-4). After that, the eternal kingdom will appear in its ultimate form (2 Peter 1:11; Revelation 21:1ff.; 22:5), and finally the transformation will take place where God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28).

We Should Consider What Kingdom Is Meant

A discussion with Norbert Lieth on the nature of the kingdom of God, the connection between Israel and the “kingdom of heaven,” the new earth, and the significance of the promise that God will be “all in all.”

Many different opinions circulate within evangelical Christianity. What are the most important points in your opinion for our understanding of the kingdom of heaven?

We should at all costs consider and keep apart which kingdom is meant and at what time. When John the Baptist, as the preparer of Jesus’ way, proclaimed the kingdom, he spoke of the imminent, visibly coming Messianic kingdom (Matthew 3:2). Jesus proclaimed the same thing when He began to appear in public as the Messiah. In His Sermon on the Mount, it was about the conditions to enable us to enter this earthly kingdom of God (Matthew 5). For this reason, the Lord says in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). Since the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish people, the kingdom has become invisible, and those who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ will enter it. After the rapture and the Great Tribulation, the promise for Israel will come into effect and the visible kingdom with the return of Jesus will come (Revelation 12:10).

In Daniel 2:44 the kingdom of God is compared to a stone that crushes the kingdoms of this world. How do you explain this prophecy briefly? What has already taken place, and what is yet to be fulfilled?

The statue that the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of in Daniel 2 symbolizes the various kingdoms of this world. The stone that was cut out of the mountain without hands and broke the statue in pieces points to Jesus Christ. Jesus is without earthly origin, hence the stone that was cut out of the mountain without hands. He came from heaven, was conceived through the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin. At His return the Lord will come from heaven, crush the kingdoms of the world, and set up a world empire Himself (Daniel 2:34-35). The first four empires of the statue are already history. They were Babylon, portrayed by the golden head; Medo-Persia, by the breast and arms of silver; Greece, by the belly and thighs of brass; and Rome, by the legs of iron. The feet of iron and clay point to the last stage of the world kingdoms in the last days, which seems to be taking place today. In Daniel 7 and Revelation 17 we find the parallels to the last phase.

In the Bible, kingdoms are often mentioned in connection with mountains. Can you name a few examples?

A mountain in the Biblical/symbolic language is often a pointer to a kingdom, i.e. a governing power: the kingdom of Babylon is described as a mountain (Jeremiah 51:25), Samaria also (Amos 6:1), Assyria and Egypt as well as other nations (Micah 7:12). The seven mountains in Revelation 17:9-10 stand for seven kings, i.e. kingdoms. The kingdom of the Messiah becomes a mountain (Daniel 2:35, 44; Micah 4:1). The mountain of Zion stands for Jerusalem, and ultimately for the saving power of the Messiah from the capital of Israel (Joel 3:16-17; Revelation 14:1). In the Messianic kingdom the mountain of the Lord will stand over all mountains, i.e. be exalted above all nations (Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1). In this regard, it is interesting that the Lord Jesus made his “government policy declaration” for His kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount on a mountain. As it was about the dawning of the sovereign rule of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, the mountain was a suitable place. In Psalm 15, it says as a prophetic preview of the Messianic kingdom, “Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. In whose eyes a vile person is condemned; but he honoureth them that fear the LORD. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.”

What part do the people of Israel play in connection with the kingdom of God?

At the establishing of the kingdom of Jesus on earth, the millennial kingdom, Israel will play an important part. First, the remnant of Israel will be led through the time of tribulation described in the book of Revelation, and brought to repentance. At the return of Jesus this remnant will be saved. When the Lord sets up His kingdom, then, Israel will reign with Him. It says in Daniel 2:44, “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.”

How do the statements of the apostle Paul agree with one another, and how do you explain them: “the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16); and, “There is neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28)?

The Jews were offered redemption first, then the nations or “Greeks.” Jesus Christ and His gospel came to the nations via Israel. Chapters 1 to 9 of the book of Acts tell us how redemption was first offered to Israel, and from chapter 10 how it also came to the nations. As far as redemption within the Church as the Body of Christ is concerned, there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles. There is only one body. Within this body there are no nationalities. This body is under perfect grace and no longer under the law. That is why it says in Galatians 3:28, “Ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Do the promises (particularly concerning the land) apply for Israel only for the millennial kingdom, or beyond it for the new earth?

Israel, to whom belong the promises as a people, appears to remain on the new earth, as Isaiah says in chapter 66:22, “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain.” The new Jerusalem that comes down to the earth from heaven, has a clear connection to Israel, to the twelve tribes, portrayed by the twelve gates and the twelve Jewish apostles. For this reason, I assume that the promises for Israel also apply to the new earth. The Church will reign with Him from heaven, and of course have continual access to the new earth.

What does it mean that God will be “all in all” at the end of spiritual history?

When the Lord Jesus surrenders the reign to God the Father, then all lordship and authority will be annulled, for God is “all in all.” I can imagine that then all differences will be removed, also the differences between Israel and the Church. “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

News from Israel - 12/2016

ContactAbout UsPrivacy and Safety