What do we mean by the terms ‘kingdom of God’ and ‘kingdom of heaven’?
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“What do we mean by the terms ‘kingdom of God’ and ‘kingdom of heaven’?” Ensign, Jan. 1996, 60–61

What do we mean by the terms “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven,” and are they synonymous with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

Douglas Brinley, associate professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University.

Sometimes the terms “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” are confusing because of the context in which they have been used. Elder James E. Talmage, formerly of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, commented: “The expressions ‘Kingdom of God’ and ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ are ofttimes used synonymously and interchangeably in our imperfect English translation of the Holy Bible. … The Lord has in this day and age made plain the fact beyond all question, that there is a distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1917, p. 65).

Elder Talmage went on to provide a helpful clarification of the modern usage of these expressions: “The kingdom of God is the Church of Christ; the kingdom of heaven is that system of government and administration which is operative in heaven, and which we pray may some day prevail on earth. The kingdom of heaven will be established when the King shall come … in power and might and glory, to take dominion in and over and throughout the earth” (ibid.; see also James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977, pp. 788–89).

More recently, other Church leaders have made clear that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is synonymous with the kingdom of God on earth.

President Gordon B. Hinckley has said: “It should be recognized that this church is not a social club. This is the kingdom of God in the earth. It is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its purpose is to bring salvation and exaltation to both the living and the dead” (Ensign, May 1990, p. 97).

In 1991 Elder Howard W. Hunter said: “We represent and speak today for a worldwide church, the organized and established kingdom of God on earth” (Ensign, May 1991, p. 65).

In 1957 Elder Spencer W. Kimball said: “Everyone must be baptized, he must receive the Holy Ghost, and when he is baptized and confirmed, he is a member of the kingdom of God upon the earth” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 110).

And Elder Ezra Taft Benson said in 1946: “This is the last and great dispensation in which the great consummation of God’s purposes will be made, the only dispensation in which the Lord has promised that sin will not prevail. The Church will not be taken from the earth again. It is here to stay. The Lord has promised it and you are a part of that Church and kingdom—the nucleus around which will be builded the great kingdom of God on the earth. The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God on the earth will be combined together at Christ’s coming—and that time is not far distant” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 19).

Not everyone who lives at the beginning of the Millennium will belong to the Lord’s church, but such individuals will still partake of the blessings and protection of that kingdom over which Christ will preside.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has written: “With the millennial advent, the kingdom of God on earth will step forth and exercise political jurisdiction over all the earth as well as ecclesiastical jurisdiction over its own citizens. When the saints pray … ‘Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven’ (Matt. 6:10), they are petitioning the Father to send the political or millennial kingdom so that complete righteousness, both civically and religiously, will prevail on earth” (Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966., p. 500; see also LDS Bible Dictionary, s.v. “kingdom of heaven,” p. 721).

In like manner, the Prophet Joseph Smith prayed: “Wherefore, may the kingdom of God go forth, that the kingdom of heaven may come, that thou, O God, mayest be glorified in heaven so on earth” (D&C 65:6).

Earlier in this dispensation, in anticipating the day when the Savior would preside over his earthly kingdom, Church leaders made a distinction between the Church and the coming kingdom of heaven, which they sometimes referred to then as the “kingdom of God.” For example, Elder George Q. Cannon of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “We are asked, Is the Church of God, and the Kingdom of God the same organization? and we are informed that some of the brethren hold that they are separate.

“This is the correct view to take. The Kingdom of God is a separate organization from the Church of God. There may be men acting as officers in the Kingdom of God who will not be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On this point the Prophet Joseph gave particular instructions before his death, and gave an example, which he asked the younger elders who were present to always remember. It was to the effect that men might be chosen to officiate as members of the Kingdom of God who had no standing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Kingdom of God when established [during the Millennium] will not be for the protection of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints alone, but for the protection of all men, whatever their religious views or opinions may be” (History of the Church, 7:382).

On 8 July 1855 President Brigham Young said that the millennial kingdom “grows out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but it is not the church; for a man may be a legislator in that body which will issue laws to sustain the inhabitants of the earth in their individual rights and still not belong to the Church of Jesus Christ at all” (ibid.).

The context of these remarks indicates that following the Second Coming and the inauguration of Christ’s reign on earth, the term “kingdom of God” will be used in a broad sense to include all who are worthy to live in the millennial kingdom. Those who are not members of the Church but who are “honest and upright people … deceived by the false religions and philosophies of the world … will continue to believe false doctrines until they voluntarily elect to receive gospel light” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 499).

Regarding the name of the Church during the millennial reign, Elder McConkie stated: “It may be that the name of the Church will change. Only in our dispensation has it borne its present name. It may become The Church of Jesus Christ of Millennial Saints. No matter, it will always be his church and his kingdom; it will always carry his name” (The Millennial Messiah, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982, pp. 672–73).

Illustrated by Jerry Harston