Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven Bible Study Notes, Part 1
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.
- The kingdom of God/kingdom of heaven is one of the central themes of Scripture. It is worthy of detailed study by all Christians. Here are my summary notes from a three-month study of this noble topic. May you find them helpful and inspiring!
Matthew 3:1-2 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
•• John the Baptist announced the nearness of the kingdom of heaven.
- • The nearness of the kingdom was given as a motive for repentance — “Repent, for the kingdom...”
Matthew 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
•• Interesting. Jesus’ first public messages emphasized the same theme as John the Baptist’s — that is, the nearness of God's heavenly kingdom.
- • And again, the urgency of repentance in light of the kingdom's nearness.
Matthew 4:23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
•• Jesus preached the “gospel of the kingdom” (KJV). NIV calls it “the good news of the kingdom.”
•• Divine healing seems to be associated with the kingdom. That is good news indeed!
- • In fact, supernatural healings confirmed that God’s kingdom was functioning in Jesus on earth.
Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
•• The kingdom of heaven is for the “poor in spirit.”
•• Expositor’s Bible Commentary: “To be poor in spirit is not to lack courage but to acknowledge spiritual bankruptcy. It confesses one’s unworthiness before God and utter dependence on him.”
•• An interesting point: the first and last beatitudes (vs. 3 and vs. 10) are the ones that mention the kingdom. In those two verses, it reads: “theirs IS the kingdom.” In the other beatitudes, which don’t mention the kingdom, the verb tense is “WILL be ... WILL inherit”, etc. Matthew’s deliberate (and inspired) choice of the present tense, not the future, makes a point about the present sense of the kingdom in this context.
- • To the poor in spirit (3) and those persecuted because of righteousness (10), Jesus says, “[Yours] IS the kingdom” -- not “will be” as in the other beatitude promises.
Matthew 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
•• The kingdom of heaven is for “those who are persecuted because of righteousness.” For the time frame (“theirs is”), see notes on verse 3 above.
Matthew 5:19-20 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
•• We will be “called least ... [or] called great in the kingdom of heaven” based upon whether ...
- 1) we break God’s commands and teach others to do so, or...
- 2) we practice God’s commands and teach them to others.
•• Interesting — the breaker and the keeper of God’s commands are BOTH said to be “IN the kingdom.” But the breaker is called “least in the kingdom” and the keeper is called “great in the kingdom.” But both are called “IN the kingdom.”
- • The one who broke “the least” commandment (19) is still included “IN the kingdom,” but is himself “called least in the kingdom.” But still “IN.”
- • Conclusion: the saved person, who is “in the kingdom” but is breaking some of God’s commandments is still “IN” the kingdom.
•• The previous paragraph seems to support GRADATION WITHIN the kingdom ranks, not inclusion versus exclusion from the kingdom. Other instances of this gradation-within versus inclusion-exclusion:
- • Matthew 11:11 “...he who is least in the kingdom is greater than [John the Baptist].” Again, suggesting ranks within the kingdom.
- • Matthew 20:20-23 The mother of Zebedee’s sons asked Jesus for special places “in [Christ’s] kingdom” for her two sons. Jesus did not deny that there were special places in the kingdom, replying to her, “These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
•• (20) A person will “certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” unless his “righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees.” Pharisaical “righteousness” was an external thing, based on their outward appearance of following the Law. New Testament righteousness is an internal thing, an issue of repentance, faith, and grace.
- • The implication is that those who do receive the New Testament free gift of God’s righteousness by grace through faith do indeed “enter the kingdom of heaven (20).”
Matthew 6:9-10 “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,  your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ ”
•• The kingdom is an issue for fervent prayer.
•• “Your kingdom come” — to be prayed by all Christians throughout the Church Age — suggests that the fullness of the kingdom is yet future.
Matthew 6:31-33 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
•• The kingdom of God seems here to be contrasted with the earthly pursuits of food, drink, and clothing.
•• Jesus gives the kingdom its rightful priority — “Seek ye first the kingdom of God” (KJV)
•• The kingdom is linked with “[God’s] righteousness”. They are both to be sought.
•• “His [God’s] righteousness” — which we are commanded to seek — could be interpreted at least two ways:
- 1) “His” (apparently in contrast to “ours”) may suggest the imputed righteousness of God, attained by faith. Or...
- 2) It may refer to “righteous acts” (as in Revelation 19:8, NIV). In this interpretation Jesus would be encouraging a level of righteous living, as in Ephesians 4:24 in its surrounding context — “...put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” The immediate context in Ephesians 4 is righteous deeds, righteous living.
Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
•• Neither man’s words (“Lord, Lord!”) nor his claim to spiritual gifts (prophecy, exorcisms, miracles) will gain him entrance into the kingdom of heaven. No, entrance to the kingdom is “only” for those who “do the will of [God the] Father” as opposed to “you EVILDOERS.”
- • Notice that Jesus says, “I never knew you,” strongly suggesting that they were never born again.
- • Note also that Jesus did not necessarily agree that they had prophesied or cast out demons. He simply said that “many will SAY...” to Him that they had done these things in His name.
Matthew 8:11-12 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
•• The “feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” is clearly a yet-future sense of the kingdom. It suggests to me an experience after Jesus’ Second Coming.
•• The context is (vss. 5-10) Gentiles entering the kingdom by faith in Jesus (vs. 10, the Gentile centurion) in contrast to the Israelites (KJV: “the children of the kingdom”) being excluded for their refusal to believe in Jesus.
•• Two groups appear here — (1) believing Gentiles in the kingdom and (2) unbelieving Jews being “thrown outside [of the kingdom], into the darkness.”
Matthew 9:35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.
•• Like Matthew 4:23 — Jesus is seen “teaching ... preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing...” Again, healing is associated with the kingdom.
Matthew 10:7-8 As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.
•• Once more, as with Jesus and John the Baptist, the message is: “The kingdom of heaven is near.”
•• Some manifestations associated with the kingdom are: “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils” [KJV]. We are beginning to see a repeating pattern of the demonstration of God’s power being linked to His kingdom.
Matthew 11:11-12 I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.
•• Jesus certified that no one had yet lived who was greater than John the Baptist. Nevertheless, “he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” The “least” citizen of God’s kingdom is greater than the greatest citizen of earthly kingdoms.
•• Don’t take a passive approach to this great theme of the kingdom of God. No! You must forcefully lay hold of it. You must press in to it. It is worthy of all your efforts to “lay hold” of God’s kingdom.
- • Note: some commentators disagree with the above and believe that the “forceful men” are enemies of the kingdom — e.g., King Herod, antagonistic Jewish leaders, even demon spirits.
Matthew 12:28 But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
•• Once again, God’s power — here, in the exorcism of demons — is spoken of by Jesus as something that points to the presence in their midst of God’s kingdom.
- • Here the powerful operation of the Holy Spirit is given as an evidence of the presence of the kingdom of God.
Matthew 13:10-16 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”  He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.  Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.  This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.  In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.  For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’  But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.
•• Some just hear the parables, the stories. Others hear and understand “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.”
•• Jesus tells us why some hear but don’t understand, see but don’t perceive (14). Jesus says it is because “this people’s HEART has become calloused” (15).
•• “Calloused heart”? You will not know the “secrets of the kingdom of heaven.” By implication, the secrets will be known by those with sincere, obedient, God-seeking hearts.
•• “The secrets of the kingdom” (11) — The Expositor’s Bible Commentary has an interesting note: “ ‘The mystery of the kingdom is the coming of the kingdom into history in advance of its apocalyptic manifestation’ ... That God would bring in His kingdom was no secret. All Jews looked forward to it. ‘The new truth, now given to men by revelation in the person and mission of Jesus, is that the kingdom which is to come finally in apocalyptic power, as foreseen by Daniel, has in fact entered into the world in advance in a hidden form to work secretly within and among men.” [bold type mine]
Matthew 13:18-23 Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:  When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path.  The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.  The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.  But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
•• (19) It is apparent that Jesus expects us to minister in such a way that people “hear the message about the kingdom.”
•• For several listed reasons, the “message about the kingdom” doesn’t bear fruit in the hearer:
- (1) He doesn’t understand it, and the devil snatches it away from him.
- (2) Trouble or persecution cause him to fall away.
- (3) The message of the kingdom is choked by the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth.
•• Those who hear and understand the kingdom message bear a crop — 100-, 60-, or 30-fold.
•• Central to this portion of Scripture is the fact that “the message about the kingdom” receives a varied reception among different people.
•• (19) God intends that “the message about the kingdom ... [be] sown in one’s heart.” The heart is where the kingdom will or will not be treasured.
- • Similarly, the parallel in Luke 8:15 says that those who “produce a crop” are those who hear and retain the word of the kingdom “in a noble and good heart.”
•• The “message about the kingdom” (19) must also be understood (23). Then it will yield an abundant crop.
Matthew 13:24-30 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.  When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.  “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’  “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’  “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
13:36-43 ...“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”  He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man.  The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one,  and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.  As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
•• This is a kingdom parable — (24) “The kingdom of heaven is like...”
•• Jesus seeks to grow the heavenly kingdom on earth by sowing good seed (i.e., people, “the sons of the kingdom”) in the world.
•• The devil tries to thwart kingdom growth by sowing his people (“the sons of the evil one”) among the good seed.
•• Jesus will leave his mixture of God’s people and the devil’s people together until the “end of the age.”
•• Then He will have the angels harvest the world — casting the “weeds ... into the fiery furnace.” And the “good-seed” people of the kingdom will “shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
•• In this Church Age the kingdom people (“good seed”) and the devil’s people (“weeds”) live mixed together. At the “end of the age” they will be divided.
•• Here the division is clearly between two categories —
- 1) “the good seed ... the sons of the kingdom” and
- 2) “the weeds ... the sons of the evil one.”
- • In this parable, the in-the-kingdom versus out-of-the-kingdom division is clearly between the saved and the lost (“sons of the evil one”).
•• Remember, “kingdom” and “church” are not synonyms. This parable is not talking about good and evil people in the church, but rather in the broader kingdom of God on earth. Recall that Jesus said (38) that “the field is the world,” not the church. The world is the context of this kingdom parable.
- • The kingdom-field, which is the world, is bigger than, not equal to or smaller than, the church.
- • A related thought — that the “field is the world” is proof positive that the kingdom from the outset was intended to include Gentiles as well as Jews.
Matthew 13:31-32 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.  Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”
•• The kingdom of heaven started seemingly small. As earlier verses said, it came into direct proximity to men and women with Jesus’ coming to earth.
•• The kingdom is to be “planted.” It starts small, it grows, and it becomes large.
•• It provides a safe roost for the birds of the air.
Matthew 13:33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
•• Again, the kingdom has seemingly small beginnings — typified by the small volume of yeast.
•• But when “mixed” into this world, it will eventually “work through all the dough.”
Matthew 13:44 The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
•• The kingdom of heaven is like a “treasure.”
- • Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Man’s treasure and his heart will be collocated.
•• The kingdom of heaven is to be treasured above all other treasures.
- • Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God...” (Matthew 6:33, KJV).
- • He expects us to “sell out” all else in pursuit of His kingdom.
Matthew 13:45-46 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
•• This is similar to the “treasure” kingdom parable.
- • The kingdom is “of great value.”
- • It is worth selling everything to acquire it.
Matthew 13:47-50 Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.  When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away.  This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous  and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
•• This kingdom parable leads right up to the Second Coming of Christ —  “the end of the age.”
•• The kingdom net became “full” with two groups:
- (1) the “good fish” — “collected...in baskets”
- (2) the “bad fish” — thrown away
•• At the end of the age, apparently not before, the angels will separate these two groups, here  called “the wicked” and “the righteous.”
•• “The wicked” will be thrown “into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
- • It is important to bear in mind here that Jesus has “delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). It would seem necessary to identify the “bad ... wicked” people of this kingdom parable as lost (unsaved) people. For all the redeemed have been delivered by Jesus from “the wrath to come,” which would surely include a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth like the “fiery furnace.”
- • Further, in verse 50 of this kingdom parable, the “wicked” are thrown “into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This identical phrase is used in verse 42, the parable of the weeds, to show the destination of “the sons of the evil one” (38).
# Key point: These who end up weeping and gnashing their teeth in the fiery furnace are not believers who missed out on the kingdom, but are “sons of the evil one (38) ... the bad (48) ... the wicked (49).”
# The “all who do evil” who are “weed[ed] out of His kingdom” (41) are the lost, the unsaved, the “SONS OF THE EVIL ONE (38) ... THE BAD (48) ... THE WICKED (49).” It is they who will end up “in the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Matthew 13:51-52 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied.  He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
•• There are numerous, often conflicting opinions among commentators about the meaning of these verses. I can’t resolve those. But some clear points emerge.
•• Jesus wants us to “understand” kingdom principles.
•• the precise identity in context of the “teacher of the law” is variously interpreted. But there is a clear, key point:
- • The one “instructed about the kingdom of heaven” is expected to bring forth new treasures and old.
- • This may refer to the greater understanding of God’s kingdom that the New Testament adds to the sparser teaching of the kingdom in the Old Testament.
- • One point is clear: only Christian believers can teach “new treasures as well as old.” The unbelieving, Jewish teacher of the Law can only teach “the old.”
Matthew 16:18-19 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  I will give you the keys of 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.
•• The “building [of the] church” and the kingdom of heaven here seem to be associated.
- • The church is people. The kingdom has to do with ruling, with reigning.
•• There is binding and loosing authority authority given to leaders (such as Peter) in God’s kingdom.
- • (see note above) We see God’s people (the church) reigning (the kingdom).
Matthew 16:27-28 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.  I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.
•• The two verses taken together seem to indicate that at the Second Coming Jesus will “come in His kingdom.”
•• That might suggest a final, realized fullness of the kingdom at His Second Coming.
• Jesus had already said at His First Coming that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17, KJV).
- • Yet He also told us (Matt. 6:10, KJV) to pray, “Thy kingdom come,” indicating that there were aspects of the kingdom not yet realized at His First Coming.
•• There are numerous, often conflicting, interpretations of the meaning of those who will “not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
- • At present, I have no definitive understanding of this phrase.
Matthew 18:1-4 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  He called a little child and had him stand among them.  And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
•• Interesting — Jesus did imply (4) that there is such a thing as degrees of greatness in the kingdom.
- • Remember, Jesus has already said in Matthew 5:19 that there are those who “will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” and those who “will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
•• Humility (4) is needed for “greatness” in the kingdom.
•• “Change” (3) is needed to enter the kingdom.
- • “...never enter”! (3) — The person who does not “change and become like little children will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
- • Does this change-to-enter requirement refer to the changes associated with getting saved? Or does it refer to changes subsequent to getting saved?
- • The King James phrase “except ye be converted” may suggest initial salvation.
This bible study is continued in Part Two and is finished in Part Three.
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©2005, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.