I am trying to understand the difference between the “Kingdom of God”/“Kingdom of Heaven” and “salvation.” Do you have any thoughts on this?
“Kingdom of God/heaven” is the dominant gospel of Jesus in the language of the synoptic gospels. It’s a complex phrase in Jesus’ teaching, as he sometimes uses it to describe his work in the world of here and now, the transformative work inside of people, and the life of the age to come. Simply put, the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, the kingdom within you, and the kingdom yet to come.
In John’s gospel, the language is different because he is transposing Jesus’ message to another era (post-temple), another region (Ephesus/Asia Minor), and different demographics (including Gentiles without the Jewish backstory). So he translates Jesus idea of “entering the kingdom” into “receiving eternal life.” Again, it’s not as simple as “pray this prayer and you will go to heaven when you die.” Eternal life can be experienced here and now, in you and among you, and extends to the resurrection of the dead.
Now to “salvation.” Following the above principles, we let go of narrow notions of salvation such as “Are you saved, brother?” or “When were you saved, sister?” which normally meant “When did you pray the sinner’s prayer? IF you did, you are saved and will have everlasting life post-mortem.” That’s grossly reductionistic. Rather, “salvation” describes the process by which we enter, experience, and anticipate the kingdom of God or eternal life. The complexity of “salvation” (by Jesus Christ, our Saviour) includes past, present, and future tenses:
- Past: we were saved by Jesus in his Incarnation, death, and resurrection (prior to our response).
- Present: we are being saved as Jesus’ Way is permeating our hearts, lives, and cultures.
- Future: we will be saved when death is defeated and Christ restores all things.
I hope this brief response is of some help.