The first words of Jesus’ public ministry outline and provide a foundation for his ministry that changed the world forever.
Matthew 4.17 [NASB]
From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’
In the gospel of Matthew these are the very first words of Jesus’ public ministry. Up to this point in Matthew’s narrative, we have read about his birth, baptism, and temptation in the wilderness. But one of the accounts covered in the first four chapters of Matthew does not directly involve Jesus, but rather John the Baptist. His story is in chapter three, and one of the very first things we learn about John the Baptist is that he was preaching “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3.2). Now fast forward to Matt. 4.12, we learn that John is taken into custody, he is arrested and is not able to preach “the kingdom of heaven” as freely as he once could. And we read in Matt. 4.17, that “from that time”, from the time that John is taken into custody, Jesus takes the responsibility of preaching the kingdom of heaven upon himself and starts proclaiming it. Six verses later in Matt. 4.23, Matthew tells us that the Kingdom of heaven Jesus was preaching is the gospel or good news.
Next I want to look at the phrase ‘kingdom of heaven’. This phrase is unique only to Matthew, the other 65 books of the Bible when they mention the kingdom, it is the ‘kingdom of God’. But even in Matthew’s Gospel there are a few instances where he uses the ‘kingdom of God’ instead of the ‘kingdom of heaven’.
Matt. 6.33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. ESV
Matt. 12.28 – But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. NASB
Matt. 19.23-24 – And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. NASB
Matt. 21.31 – Truly I (Jesus) say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. NASB
Matt. 21.43 – Therefore I (Jesus) say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. NASB
Even though Matthew primarily uses kingdom of heaven, he uses kingdom of God a few times. They are the exact same thing. They are not two different phrases meaning two different things. For Jesus and his contemporaries the gospel was about the kingdom of heaven/God. And for Matthew, this is his summary statement about Jesus which is unpacked in the rest of the gospel.