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.
Cool stuff! I just learned. Rob Bell in his book “Velvet Elvis” talks about it all.
In Jewish culture, there were lots of Rabbis (teachers) who each had their own interpretations of the scriptures. If a rabbi took on a student, that student was agreeing to live under the “yoke” of that rabbi – the “yoke” was the different ways that the rabbi interpreted the scriptures. He would allow some things and not allow others based on this “yoke.” For example – One rabbi might say you can walk a certain distance on the Sabbath, but if you went any further that would be “work” and it would violate the Sabbath. Another rabbi might permit you to walk further, but forbid other things. It’s all in the interpretation – or the “yoke.”
If a student didn’t quite understand what a rabbi meant the rabbi would say, “You’ve abolished the Torah.” but if the student understood it completely the rabbi’s response would be “You’ve fulfilled the Torah.”
When Jesus first preached that He was there to “fulfill the law, not to abolish it,” the Jewish listeners heard a whole different thing than we do. He was basically saying – I understand all this better than anyone. This is partly why Jesus had som many followers. Most rabbis were teaching the yoke of some other well-respected rabbi – but Jesus wasn’t. He was teaching a whole new yoke. It was rare that anyone would have the guts to say, “My interpretation is new and it’s better than anybody else who came before me.” One way the people could judge whether they were speaking the truth or not, was by who else supported this teaching.
For a student to become a rabbi himself – he had to be validated by two other rabbis who would lay hands on him and pray over him. This is why Jesus’ baptism was so important – the two “rabbis” who laid hands on Him were. The voice of one crying in the desrt (John the Baptist) and the voice from heaven. (God, the Father)
A new “yoke” interpretation would take on the sounds of “you’ve heard it said…but I tell you…” which in many ways was bashing the previous teachers. The process of allowing certain things and forbidding others was called “binding and loosing.” The “bind” it was to forbid it. To “loose” something was to allow it. So a rabbi would “bind” certain practices and “loose” others and eventually when he’d give his disciples authority to bind and loose, it was called “giving the keys to the kingdom.”
Listen with new ears now as Jesus says in Matthew, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
It is very significant to recognize that Jesus is giving his followers authority to make new interpretations of the Scriptures.