The Mysteries of the Kingdom of God (3)
Jeremy Gibson, Derby, England
The interpretation of passages relating to prophecy is a topic liable to generate differences of opinion amongst believers. The views expressed in this article are not those commonly taught or necessarily held by all committee members but they are included here to encourage us all to search the scriptures to see whether these things be so. Editor
So what period do these parables actually cover? I suggest they provide a fresh insight, in the light of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah, to the time just prior to the establishment of the Messianic kingdom, ultimately the tribulation. In the Old Testament, the day of the Lord included both the tribulation and the glorious Messianic kingdom but how these related to each other remained unexplained fully. These parables show how these two components to the day of the Lord fit together. The tribulation era is necessary because of the nation’s rejection of their Messiah and immediately precedes the setting up of the kingdom of God. These parables also explain how men respond to the message of the kingdom, not only at the time of the Lord Jesus, but also during the tribulation and what conditions prevail just prior to the setting up of the millennial kingdom – a rapid spread of corruption, an inseparable mixture of godly and ungodly. They climax with the great separation of humanity. They also refer to how precious the whole concept of the kingdom of God is to the heart of God and the great price that He paid for it, the precious blood of Christ. Thus, these parables bypass the church era altogether. And why should they not? The Old Testament prophets leapt over the church period. Why could the Lord Jesus not have done the same here in His predictions about the coming kingdom? That is to say, the church simply is not here – He was dealing with the future kingdom of God, primarily in relation to Israel and their rejection of Him as Messiah.
A large crowd out of every city came to the Lord Jesus Christ and, sitting in a boat, He taught them, Matt. 13. 1, 2; Mark 4. 1; Luke 8. 4. Whether they realized it or not they were enormously privileged for, ‘many prophets and righteous men [had] desired to see those things which [they saw], and [had] not seen them; and to hear those things which [they heard], and [had] not heard them’, Matt. 13. 17. But with this opportunity came great responsibility, ‘who hath ears to hear, let him hear’, 13. 9; Mark 4. 9, 23. God’s word measures those who hear it, giving to us what we give to it, ‘with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you’, 4. 24. And Christ’s parables were no exception. Although He used simple illustrations that the people could easily relate to and spoke at a pace they could follow, 4. 33 – an important lesson for all Bible teachers – the parables actually concealed truth from the multitudes while conveying new revelation to the disciples, 4. 11, 12, 34. Israel’s leaders had rejected Christ’s plain teaching about the kingdom of God and, despite their professed enthusiasm, the crowd would soon follow them, closing their eyes, stopping their ears and hardening their hearts to God’s truth, Matt. 13. 14, 15; Isa. 6. 9, 10; cf. Deut. 29. 4. The disciples, on the other hand, had believed the Lord’s teaching so far and, because of this, were, in the parables, given further insight into the kingdom of God. Thus, ‘whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath’, Matt.13. 12; Mark 4. 25.
Having established the exact timeframe to which these parables relate – the tribulation just prior to the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom – and come to appreciate just how difficult they are to understand – the Lord Jesus quietly explained them while alone with the disciples, Matt. 13. 10, 11 – we will now attempt to elucidate the primary meaning of each parable. Since all scripture is profitable for our learning, we will also endeavour to draw out practical lessons for Christians presently.
The Sower and the soil, Matt. 13. 3- 9; 18-23; Mark 4. 3-9; 13-20; Luke 8. 5-8, 11-15.
This first parable is the key to unlocking the meaning of the others, Mark 4. 13. The sower represents the Son of Man, a Messianic title. The seed is the word of God and more specifically the word of the kingdom. Just as the seed was indiscriminately scattered, Matt. 13. 4, the good news of an imminent kingdom of God was preached throughout the land of Israel by the Lord and His apostles and will be preached around the world during the tribulation period, Matt. 24. 14. Mark’s mention of single seeds, Mark 4. 4, 5, 7, 8, emphasizes the responsibility that individuals have regarding the message. The four soil types show Israel’s response to the preaching of Christ and His apostles and how people will react to the gospel of the kingdom in the future tribulation. In reality, the heart of man does not change in his response to the word, no matter what dispensation he lives in. These four responses could just as easily summarize men’s reaction to the gospel in our day.
WAYSIDE: Israel’s religious leaders were as hard-hearted as a welltrodden path surrounding a field, where any seed would be quickly trodden down under foot or stolen by birds. It pictures Satan immediately snatching the seed of the word of God from people’s hearts. Even today, Satan blinds ‘the minds of them which believe not’, 2 Cor. 4. 4.
ROCK: People who quickly and joyfully receive the message of the kingdom, but then fall away in the face of adversity, are represented by seed falling into a shallow layer of soil which, lacking moisture and depth, means that the heat of the sun soon scorches and kills it. During the tribulation, intense persecution will turn many from the faith, Matt. 24. 9, 10. Even believers inevitably come up against opposition, Acts 14. 22, and their continuance in the things of God proves the reality of their faith.
THORNS: Excessive anxiety (‘cares of this world’), ambition (‘lusts of other things’) and avarice (‘deceitfulness of riches’) are all capable of choking the word of God, even in the lives of believers. This stifling influence is portrayed by the thorns. May every Christian constantly guard against these suppressing factors, Prov. 4. 23.
GOOD GROUND: True believers in every generation will attentively listen to, receive, understand, and keep the word of God. And, as a result, out of an honest and good heart, they will patiently bear fruit for God, though to differing degrees. This is symbolized by the seed sown into good ground.
The lamp, Mark 4. 21, 22; Luke 8. 16, 17.
Believers during the tribulation, as at all times, will be expected to shine brightly for God. Just as a light is not hidden under a vessel (symbolizing business life) or a bed (representing ease), neither must Christians allow business affairs or leisure activities to hinder their testimony.
The growing seed, Mark 4. 26-29.
Healthy growth, whether in the natural or spiritual realm, is not usually sudden, but gradual. Those who hear and receive the message of the kingdom will develop spiritually during the tribulation period, just as Christians should today, slowly but surely, develop through regularly feeding on God’s word, 1 Pet. 2. 2; Heb. 5. 14. As well as individual growth, there will be steady progress in witnessing during the tribulation period, so that when everything has developed as fully as God wishes, the harvest will come and the kingdom will be established. As a practical application for today, the fact that growth and fruit is God’s prerogative, and all that we can do is sow seed, should take great pressure off our ministry.
Parables 4 and 9
The wheat and the tares, Matt. 13. 24-30; 36-43 and the dragnet, Matt. 13. 47-50.
The persecution experienced during the tribulation will be fierce, causing many to turn from God’s truth, Matt. 24. 10. Nevertheless, there will remain an abundance of false prophets, deceiving many, Matt. 24. 11. Only Christ’s coming will effectively separate the false from the true. The good seed and good fish represent the children of the kingdom, genuine believers at the time of the Lord and during the tribulation on earth, who will eventually enter, inherit and ‘shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father’, Matt. 13. 43. The tares and bad fish stand for the children of the wicked one, whom the angels will sever ‘from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire’, Matt.13. 49, 50; Rev. 14. 14-20. Although Christ first came to save, He will come again to judge. And never forget, even now, as during the tribulation, Satan is busy attempting to confound God’s work; in this case through counterfeit as an angel of light, 2 Cor. 11. 14.
Parables 5 and 6
The mustard seed, Matt. 13. 31-32; Mark 4. 30-32, and the leaven, Matt. 13. 33.
Just prior to God’s kingdom being established on earth, there will be widespread wickedness, depravity and corruption. The rapid spreading leaven symbolizes this, just as elsewhere in the Bible leaven pictures that which is bad: Leaven of the Pharisees – hypocrisy, Matt. 16. 6; Leaven of the Sadducees – disbelief in the supernatural, Matt. 16. 6; Leaven of Herod – political ambition, Mark 8. 15; Leaven of un-judged sin, 1 Cor. 5; Leaven of malice and wickedness, 1 Cor. 5. 8; Leaven of legalism, Gal. 5. 9.
A concentration of this wickedness will be found in a massive anti-God religious system known as ‘Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth’, Rev. 17. 5. The large tree, which grows out of the proverbially small mustard seed, with birds (which the Saviour has already taught represent the emissaries of Satan) nesting in its branches, stands for this. Since wickedness spreads quickly, we must ensure that false doctrine and moral depravity are kept outside local churches.
Parables 7 and 8
The treasure and the pearl, Matt. 13. 44-46.
Treasure hid in a field and a pearl have three things in common. They are initially hidden from view. They are exceptionally valuable. And, with time, they usually end up on display. Similarly, during the tribulation period, although the concept of the kingdom of God will be hidden from the vast majority, it will remain exceptionally precious to God and Christ. The price paid was nothing short of the precious blood of Christ, without which the kingdom of God could never be set up. And, finally, after those dark days, with the King in His glory the established kingdom will be manifest for all to see.