Mysteries of the Kingdom
By Tom HoltWe read about the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven so often in the New Testament that they become a part of our everyday vocabulary. But do you know that neither of those terms appears in the Old Testament? Even in the four gospels, Jesus speaks of it mostly in parables. Asked by the disciples why He does that, He answers, "Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given" (Matthew 13:11). Isn't it wonderful that God has given us believers the special privilege of learning the secrets of His kingdom?
In this message, I would like to expound with you on some of this privileged information. I am going to talk in particular about two of the parables recorded in Matthew 13.
Before I begin, let me first point out that the kingdom of God is not the same as heaven. Heaven is God's dwelling place. Like God Himself, therefore, it has no beginning. The kingdom of God, however, did not always exist. When John the Baptist and later Jesus began to preach, they both said, "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." If the kingdom was merely at hand in that day, then it had not yet arrived.
The invisible church. It was at the cross that this kingdom actually came into being. We read in Revelation 12:10: "Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our
God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb" and so on. The kingdom came when Christ, the Lamb of God, defeated Satan by dying for all those who would believe in Him.
Where is this kingdom, then? Can we see it? Asked about this, the Lord Himself explains in Luke 17: "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you." Later, He tells the Roman Governor Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world."
The kingdom of God cannot be seen with our human eyes because it, like Christ its king, is spiritual. And it is not of this world because it comes from heaven. It is the eternal church that comprises every person that has ever become saved. It is the body of believers of whom Christ is the head.
The corporate church. Sometimes, however, Jesus also uses the kingdom of God to picture the corporate church and in this sense it is visible. The corporate church is the sum total of all local churches that exist at any given time. And a local church is a congregation of people joining together to serve and worship God in a specific location.
While God is primarily concerned with the building of His eternal church, He nevertheless has an intense interest in what's going on in the local churches as well. In fact, the greater part of the New Testament consists of letters written, in the first instances, to various local churchesthe church in Corinth, the church in Philippi, the church in Colosse and so on.
In Revelation 1, moreover, when the apostle John was taken up in the spirit to heaven, he saw the Lord standing in the midst of seven candlesticks. Those candlesticks, he was told, were the seven local churches in Asia that the Lord Jesus was writing letters to.
The contents of those letters, recorded in Chapters 2 and 3, reveal that most of those churches had serious problems. They had within their congregations false teachers and people whom God labels "the synagogue of Satan". That the Lord Jesus saw fit nevertheless to stand among their candlesticks and write to each of them shows how keenly He is concerned with all the corporate churches.
Parable of the TaresLet us look now into the parable that begins in Matthew 13:24:The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.In verses 37-43, the Lord Himself gives His explanation to the disciples:
So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let
both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.Through this parable of the tares, Christ is teaching us that within the corporate church there will inevitably be unbelievers as well as believers. The key command there, I believe, is: Let both grow together until the harvest.
As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Instead of treating them as outsiders, we should welcome them. Even though we may have different opinions on certain points, we should try to get along with themso long as we do not compromise our own obedience. As Paul says in Romans 12:18: "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men."
Why? First of all, some of these unbelievers may have come to worship because they have been drawn by God. If so, God may very well use our Christian love and the gospel we preach to bring them into His kingdom.
In every local church, moreover, there are always some people who call themselves Christians but in fact have never become saved. Having been misled, they may not even know what salvation is all about. Again, God may use what we teach and how we behave to open their eyes and save their souls.
Finally, it is sometimes possible for us to differentiate the tares from the wheat. On the one hand, the lifestyle of many infant believers may not be that much different from that of the world. They have yet to grow in grace and mature in Christ.
On the other hand, God warns in II Corinthians 11 that with Satan capable of transforming himself into an angel of light, his deceitful workers can and do also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness. We can hardly tell them apart from true Christians.
Instead of upsetting the unity of the church, God is telling us through this parable that we should just love and be patient with one another. We can afford to be generous here because when the last day comes, Jesus will take care of the infiltrators. His angels will collect the tares and throw them into a furnace of fire.
Parable of the LeavenLet us look now at the parable God presents in verse 33:The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.At first glance, this seems much like the small mustard seed that grows into a large tree, suggesting that from a modest beginning, the body of believers will grow into a huge kingdom. But a careful study of the key words in this verse reveals quite the opposite truth.
To start with, we need to determine what the whole that was leavened represents. If it's the world, then this parable would imply that the influence of Christianity will eventually impact the whole world. But elsewhere, the Bible makes it very clear that toward the end of time, sin will multiply with Satan seemingly being the victor.
Actually, the verse itself reveals that the whole that was leavened is three measures of meal. We thus need to search the scriptures and find out what that symbol stands for.
Fellowship with God. In Genesis 18, there is an account of God visiting Abraham in the form of three men. We read in verse 6, "And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth." The patriarch wanted to partake of the cakes with God; he wanted to fellowship with God.
In Judges 6, we read of God coming to Gideon to tell him to go and save Israel from the Midianites. The first thing Gideon did was to bring an offering, among which was cakes made from an ephah of flour (v. 19). An ephah equals three measures. Gideon also wanted to have communion with God.
In Ruth 2, the widow Ruth, a picture of believers, is gleaning in a field owned by Boaz, a type of Christ. Verse 17 there reads, "So she gleaned in the field until even, and beat out that she had gleaned: and it was about an ephah of barley." She sought and found food from God.
Where do believers typically have communion with the Lord? The church. In His letter to the church in Laodicea, God writes, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). Putting all these together, we can thus see that three measures of meal stand for the churchthe corporate church specifically in this parable.
Yeast. In the Bible, God always speaks of leaven as something that is evil or sinful. In the Old Testament, for example, the Israelites were not allowed to have any yeast in their homes during the seven days when the Feast of Passover was being observed. And with but one exception, they were not allowed to offer any sacrifice, whether meat or bread, with leaven.
The single exception is found in Leviticus 23:17. There, God told the Israelites to offer on the Feast of Weeks a certain amount of fine flour "baken with leaven" as "the firstfruits unto the Lord". This one verse has caused many to conclude that yeast does not always represent that which is wicked.
Note, however, that the Feast of Weeks, which is also called the Feast of the Firstfruits, is Pentecost. And it was on Pentecost that God poured out
His Spirit and began to evangelize the world. That day alone, some three thousand people were saved.
Speaking of God's election of us believers, James 1:18 says, "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." You see, those of us who have been given a new birth by the Holy Spirit are a kind of firstfruits.
Although our born-again soul does not sin, we still live in a body that has a sinful nature. Yet, these sin-tinted bodies of ours are that which Romans 12:1 commands us to present as "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God". And it is this offering of our bodies as firstfruits that the bread baked with yeast in Leviticus 23:17 was pointing to.
New Testament affirmation. In the New Testament, Jesus reiterates that yeast represents that which is wicked by telling the disciples many times to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees, and even of Herod. In Luke 12:1, He openly explains, "Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy."
The apostle Paul, meanwhile, issues the warning "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" twicein I Corinthians 5:6 and again in Galatians 5:9. In both cases he is referring to ungodly practices.
All this explains why the woman in the parable had to hide the leaven in the three measures of meal. She was doing that which Peter speaks of in his second epistle, "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies" (2:1). "Privily" is an old English word that means secretly.
Application. What is the mystery given to us through the parable of the leaven? Answer: As God's salvation plan approaches its completion, the corporate church will have been substantially desecrated by false teaching and practices. This is precisely what we are witnessing today. It is almost impossible to find a church that remains reasonably faithful to the word of God.
As we see the day approaching, we need to exhort one another all the more (Heb. 10:24). Unless our congregation is teaching outright heresies, we should stay put, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, even though we may be outnumbered by unbelievers.
And as the parable of the tares teaches, we ought to be patient, tolerant and continue to display God's love in our lives. Remembering that we have been kept from being deceived solely by the grace of God, we humbly go on serving our Savior with our all. Christ is coming back soon. May He find faith in us when He does. o
Back To Top
Back To Previous Page