Matthew records no fewer than 13 parables of Jesus about the kingdom of heaven. No doubt, the Son of God placed great emphasis on the kingdom, declaring it to be “at hand” and yet coming. Jesus used parables to reveal previously hidden truths about the kingdom, but for many it remains a mystery. When we turn to the Scriptures, we find perplexing and seemingly contradictory teachings about the kingdom, yet it was the primary focus of Christ’s teaching.
What is the kingdom of heaven? Is the kingdom here already, or are we to wait for it? Why did Jesus use parables to describe it? Who’s in the kingdom and who’s not? Why are some cast out of the kingdom? And what can we learn from Jesus’ stories of mustard seeds, pearls and bridesmaids? The Kingdom According to Jesus explores these questions in a simple and compelling way that encourages readers to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33).
The terms kingdom of God, kingdom of heaven, and kingdom (with reference to the kingdom of God/heaven) appear nearly 150 times in Scripture. None of these references gives a simple, straightforward definition of the kingdom, and many passages appear to be contradictory. Yet the kingdom is the primary focus of Jesus’ teaching. Many of his parables describe the kingdom. The apostles preach the “gospel of the kingdom.” And end-times prophecy points us toward the day when God’s kingdom will come in its fullness.
So, what is the kingdom of heaven? Are the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God the same thing? Is the kingdom here already, or are we to wait for it? What does it look like? Who’s in the kingdom and who’s not? And what is required to enter the kingdom? We will explore these and other questions in this book, mostly through the lens of Jesus’ parables in Matthew on the kingdom of heaven. To begin, we need to understand what the Bible says the kingdom of heaven is—and is not.
What the kingdom of heaven is not
There are many incorrect views about the kingdom that have emerged over the years—among them, that the kingdom of heaven is:
- An inward power, a purely subjective realm of God’s power and influence in our lives
- An apocalyptic realm, altogether future and supernatural, that God will install at the end of human history and is by no means present or spiritual
- The church, either the ever-expanding church as the world is Christianized, ushering in the kingdom, or the true church hidden within professing Christianity
- The universe, all of God’s creation over which he is sovereign
- Heaven, in contrast to earth
As we’ll see, none of these views holds up under a careful study of scripture.
So … what is the kingdom of heaven?
Rob Phillips is a certified apologetics instructor with more than 20 years of experience in preaching, teaching and training Christians to defend the Christian faith.
He serves as an adult Bible study leader at Brentwood (Tenn.) Baptist Church and works with the North American Mission Board and the Tennessee Baptist Convention to speak in churches and lead training events in apologetics. In 2008 he launched Oncedelivered.net, an apologetics Web site that features free downloadable resources.
Phillips is director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Tenn. A graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University, he and his wife, Nancy, have two grown children.