The Gospel of Matthew uses the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” instead of “Kingdom of God.”
Here’s why: Matthew was written specifically for a Jewish audience, while the other Gospels were written to a broader audience. The broader audience would need the more precise “Kingdom of God” in order to understand the Gospel, while Matthew’s Jewish audience understood the custom of honoring God by NOT speaking His name. (It was too holy to mention.) They understood the meaning of Matthew’s “Kingdom of Heaven” as speaking of God’s kingdom, but he also communicated a great reverence to God by using this phrase. With the use of God’s name, the Jewish audience might very well have been offended by the other Gospel writers’ use of the phrase “Kingdom of God.”
I think it’s also important to note that this phrase (both of them) refer to a here and now understanding of the presence of God. His Kingdom is not other worldly. It’s not somewhere else. Or sometime in the future. His kingdom is here and now! When Jesus came, he ushered in the beginning of the Kingdom of God – the Kingdom of Heaven is here. It is also to come and will be even more fulfilled in the future, but if we only think of His Kingdom as something off in the distant future, we are missing the reality of His presence with us here and now. He came to bring us life abundantly! Not just eternal life. Although that’s a good thing, it’s not gonna help us too much right now. But we do have help, and comfort, and peace, and power, and love, and anything we need right here and now in His Holy Spirit.
The idea of these phrases “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” also remind me of the Jewish understanding if “Shalom.” Shalom does not just mean “peace” as we use it, but it’s a much larger understanding. It’s whole peace. Shalom is to walk in the presence of God in all of life. It’s to have his favor and peace in all that one does. To walk in the “Kingdom of God” is “Shalom.”
I just thought this was interesting. Hope you did too.
OK – for those of you who don’t know, let me first explain what universalism is. Basically, it’s the idea that everyone will be saved. There are quite a few really smart people who adhere to this position, and it’s gaining popularity in the world today because everyone simply “likes” the idea. I “like” the idea of the Bluebell (ice cream) weight loss program too – that doesn’t make it true. As a matter of fact, if I were to live my life by this idea, it would be pretty harmful. (I’d be even fatter.) Universalism is similar.
The universalists use Scriptures like:
John 3:16 – “God so loved the world . . .”
and Romans 5:18 – “. . .one act of righteousness that brings life for all men.”
But they like to skip over the verses like:
John 10:11,15 – “The good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” It doesn’t say “everyone.”
and 2 Thes 1:9 – “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord.” If universalism was true, who is this verse talking about?
Anyway, here’s the bottom line for me. If universalism is true, then Jesus death and resurrection was pointless. Why would He have chosen that kind of suffering, if people could be saved any other way? And what kind of Father would allow His Son to endure the cross, for no reason at all? I wouldn’t want to worship the kind of God that universalism requires.
It’s important to live our lives worshiping the God of the Bible. He clearly loves all people enough to have sent His Son to provide a way for us to be saved, but if we reject Him, He is a gentleman God who allows our rejection. I once heard someone (Scott Crenshaw) say, “Sin is our way of saying to God, ‘I don’t need you.’ and hell is His way of saying,’OK, have it your way.'” If we choose universalism, we also render Jesus’ command to “Go and make disciples. . .” pointless. Therefore, I will live my life telling others about Jesus so that they can come to know Him, follow Him, and be saved.