What is the Kingdom of God? Part Six

Sermon 02-04-23

       Today will be part six of my multipart series on the Kingdom of God. We have covered a lot of ground in this series so far and in the last sermon in this series, I began to discuss the parables Jesus told in regard to the kingdom.  Studying these parables provides insights into how valuable the Kingdom is seen to be and how understanding its nature and entering it was the major focus and emphasis of Jesus’ ministry as it was of the ministry of Paul. 

        Last time I noted that the English word "parable" is taken from the Greek word parabole which literally means the placing of one thing by the side of another and the comparing of one thing with another (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon). Jesus used parables throughout His ministry to figuratively illustrate a real thing that he was teaching about. Matthew sees Jesus’ use of parables as a fulfillment of what was written in Psalm 78:2.

       Matthew 13:34-35: Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: "I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world."

       Psalm 78:1-3:  O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old--what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us.

       In the previous sermon in this series, I began our discussion of Jesus’ 14 kingdom parables by taking an in-depth look at the parable of the Sower of Seed as found in Matthew 13:3-22, Mark 4:3-20 and Luke 8:4-15. In fact, we spent the entire sermon discussing this parable.  Today we will proceed to parable number two of Jesus’ 14 kingdom parables which, like is true of the parable we discussed last time, is about the sowing of seed.  

      Matthew 13:24-30: Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.  "The owner's servants came to him and said, `Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'  "`An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, `Do you want us to go and pull them up?'  "`No,' he answered, `because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'"

       Later on, after Jesus had finished speaking to the people that gathered together to hear Him, His disciples asked Him to explain the parable of the sower of the seeds and weeds.

       Matthew 13:37- 43: He answered, "The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. "As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

       Jesus tells them the Son of Man is the sower, the field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom while the weeds stand for the sons of the evil one. The word “one” is not in the Greek. The text simply reads “sons of evil.” The enemy who sows the weed seed is the devil, the Greek diabolos which means slanderer or false accuser. Jesus explains that the harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 

       Jesus goes on to explain that at the time of the harvest (the end of the age), the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire. He goes on to instruct that at the end of the age, the Son of Man will send his angels to weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  These sinful/evil people will be thrown into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  The righteous, however, will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He again says, as He did after telling the first parable of the sower which we covered last time, “He who has ears, let him hear.”

       Last time I discussed in some detail what Jesus meant by saying “He who has ears, let him hear” so I won’t cover that ground again but go right to offering commentary on the parable before us.

       It appears that the good seed which represents the sons of the Kingdom are those understanding the Kingdom message and acting on that understanding while those represented by the weeds are those who hear the message and reject it and try to discourage others from believing it. 

       Jesus sees the time of the harvest as the end of the age.  The Greek word translated “age” is aion.  This Greek word appears 165 times in the New Testament in various contexts and is variously rendered by translators as “world,” “age” and “ever.”  This Greek word has as its basic meaning, a segment of time.  It can relate to a long period of time or a short period of time. It is sometimes used to express something eternal. Context must determine how it is being used.

       Some translations, such as the KJV, translate aion as world in Matthew 13 which leads one to believe Jesus is talking about the end of the world.  Such translation can be misleading as it can lead the reader to think in terms of the physical world coming to an end when this may not at all be what is being spoken of. 

       The Greek aion is not generally used to define the physical world or that which makes up the physical world.There are two other Greek words that are used in that respect. The word kosmos is used to describe the world as created and the word oikoumeneis used to described the world as inhabited.  Aion is primarily used to define time frames and in the New Testament this word is seen to define different time frames.  For example, “this age” is sometimes contrasted with the “age to come.”

       Mark 10:29-30: I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age(aion) (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields and with them, persecutions) and in the age (aion)to come, eternal life.

      The specific phrase “end of the aion” appears six times in the New Testament Scripture.  It appears three times in Matthew 13.  It appears once in Matthew 24 and 28 as quoted above.  It also appears once in Hebrews 9. 

      There are two extant interpretations of what Jesus meant in speaking of the end of the age in His parables. Some believe He is referring to the end of the Old Covenant age and therefore he is referring to the time when the temple would be destroyed in AD 70 thus ending the sacrificial system and inaugurating the full establishment of the New Covenant age.

       The other major interpretation is that Jesus was referring to a future to us age when the events discussed in His parables will come to pass.  I will discuss these two views in some depth in the final sermons in this series at which time I will also discuss the matter of the wicked being thrown into the fiery furnace and the gnashing of teeth.

       The parable of the harvest in Mark 4 appears to be a shortened version of the parable of the sower seen in Matthew 13. 

       Mark 4:26-29: He also said, "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain--first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come."

       The evidence for these parables being the same in both Matthew and Mark is that in both accounts, Jesus is seen as teaching the people from a boat on a lake.  In both accounts, Jesus is seen as first giving the parable of the sower followed by the parable of the seeds and weeds and then the parable of the mustard seed.  While Matthew reports several additional parables, Mark ends with the parable of the mustard seed and simply says “With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand” (Mark 4:33).

Point of Interest:

       It is interesting that Matthew records a number of parables in Matthew 13 that Jesus spoke to the people while sitting in a boat.  After Jesus is finished speaking these parables, Matthew shows Jesus moving on from where He was and returning to His hometown. 

       Matthew 13:53-54: When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked.

       As already shown, Mark reports Jesus speaking some of these same parables Matthew reported on and doing so under the same circumstances. He did so while sitting in a boat.  However, while Matthew reports Jesus speaking the parables and then returning to His hometown, Mark records that Jesus on that same day when evening came, left in a boat to go across the lake to the other side. While on the boat a severe wind comes up threatening to swamp the boat.  However, Jesus calms the wind.  When He reaches the other side, he heals a man who was possessed by evil spirits and the spirits are allowed to possess a group of swine.  He then returns by boat to where he came from where He is met by a large crowd.  He then is seen as healing a woman who has an issue of blood.  Then it's recorded Jesus raises from the dead the daughter of a ruler of the local synagogue (See Mark 4 through 5)

       Only after all this, does Mark shows Jesus returning to His hometown (Mark 6:1).  Matthew records none of these events occurring before Jesus returns to his hometown. If one wasn't aware of Mark's account of Jesus doing all these other things before returning to His hometown, one could easily conclude from Matthew's account that Jesus simply returned to His hometown shortly after speaking the parables with no other events of any significance occurring. This is very similar to Luke saying Joseph, Mary and the Christ child returned to Nazareth upon leaving Jerusalem after Jesus was circumcised while failing to report the visit of the Magi, the killing of the first born or the escape to Egypt events.

       What is more interesting is that Matthew records Jesus calming the wind, healing the demon possessed man and demons entering swine in what appears to be a different time and place during Jesus’ ministry than the time He gave the parable of the seeds and weeds. Matthew's account of these events is recorded in Matthew 8 where there is no mention of Jesus teaching in parables. However, Matthew does record that after Jesus cast out the demons; He stepped into a boat and came to his own town (Matthew 9:1). It is also interesting that Matthew’s account has Jesus casting demons out of two men as opposed to the one man reported by Mark and Luke (Matthew 8:28-34).

       Luke does not report on Jesus giving the parable of the seeds and weeds. He only reports on the parable of the sower and then goes on to report Jesus crossing the lake, calming the wind, healing the demon possessed man with the demons going into the pigs, healing of the women with the issue of blood and raising the ruler’s daughter from the dead.  Luke does not show Jesus returning to His hometown after all this as does Mark.

      The fact that these accounts don’t always agree on all the details of the events being reported on has led some critical scholars to question whether these events took place at all. They see apparent discrepancies between the accounts and conclude these events are fiction.

       What must be understood, however, is that we are here looking at different authors reporting on the same events and very likely doing so from different source materials. This is often the case when authors report on the same events.  You read a history of the Civil War by five different authors and you will find differences as to dates, locations and other such data.  However, you will find such authors all agreeing on how the major events of the war transpired and in so doing confirming that such events took place.

       Well, the same thing is true of the Gospels.  Although there may be differences in small particulars such as times, places, names and other such details, the fact you have four different authors reporting the same events as having taken place provides confirmation to these events having taken place rather than questions about them taking place.   

      Let’s now leave kingdom parable # 2 and move to kingdom parables 3 through 7. These parables will need little additional commentary as they are quite self-explanatory.  

       PARABLE #3: The Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:31-32, Luke 13:18-19).

       He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."

      PARABLE #4: Yeast and Dough (Matthew 13:33, Luke 13:20-21).

      He told them still another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."

       PARABLE #5: Treasure in a Field (Matthew 13:44).

       The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

       PARABLE #6: Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45-46).

      Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

       These four parables are quite self-explanatory.  The first two deal with how the Kingdom begins small but continues to expand.  The second two show how valuable the Kingdom is and how one should give everything up to be a part of it. 

       As already discussed in this series, the Kingdom appears to be dynamics of righteous living in the here and now and also our destination after physical death. Because the Kingdom encompasses our living according to its behavioral standards in the here and now, it is seen as a present reality and growing in the here and now.

       The Kingdom is a present earthly reality for those willing to live by its standards. As discussed in previous sermon in this series, it also appears to be our destination after physical death.  Some believe this destination to be in the heavenly realm at the seat of authority for the Kingdom where God the Father, Jesus and a great host of heavenly Beings reside.  Others believe this destination is right here on planet earth where a restoration of the Davidic kingdom will occur and we will rule and reign with Christ.  As promised, we will explore these different perspectives as we proceed in this series.  

       PARABLE #7: A Net Full of Fish (Matthew 13:47-50).

       "Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

       Commentary on parable #7: A Net Full of Fish:

       This parable is teaching the same thing the parable of the seeds and weeds is teaching. At the end of the age, the wicked will be separated from the righteous. The phrase “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” is used here again as it is in Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the seeds and weeds.

       Parable #8: Settling of Accounts (Matthew 18:23-35).

       Here the Kingdom of God is likened to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  A man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. The man was not able to pay so the master ordered that he, his wife and his children and all that they had be sold to repay the debt.  This servant begged the master to be patient with him and he will pay back everything.  The master is seen as taking pity on him and cancelling the debt entirely with apparently no strings attached.

       It is recorded that this same man who had His large debt cancelled went and demanded payment of a much smaller debt (a hundred denarii) owned him by one of his own servants.  This man’s servant begged him to be patient with him and he would pay what he owed.  But the man refused and had his servant thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.  When the other servants of this man saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told his master everything that had happened. Here is what happened next.

      Matthew 18:32-35: Then the master called the servant in. `You wicked servant,' he said, `I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

       Here we have the obvious message that we are to be merciful, compassionate and forgiving. These are seen as behavioral dynamics associated with the kingdom.

       Commentary on parable #8: Settling of Accounts:

      This unmerciful servant initially came before the King and begged to be given time to repay a debt of 10,000 talents. The Greek word rendered “10,000” is murioi.  Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines this word as innumerable and countless.  It is used only twice more in the NT, both times by Paul, and by context can be seen to be used in a hyperbolic manner to indicate an immeasurable number (1 Corinthians 4:15 and 14:19). 

       The apparent point being made by Christ is that the servant’s debt could never be paid.  It is only through the mercy of the King that this servant can escape paying a penalty for his inability to repay the debt he owes. It appears Jesus is instructing through this parable that a major dynamic of the Kingdom is the enormous mercy of God and that only through the mercy of God can we have our sins forgiven and avoid paying the penalty of eternal death.

       This parable also instructs that we are to exhibit the same level of mercy to our fellow man and a failure to do so does not set well with God.  The servant of the wicked servant owed just a pittance of what the wicked servant owned and yet the wicked servant refused to allow him time to pay it back.  Instead, the wicked servant has his servant thrown into prison until he pays the entire debt. I have always wondered how this servant could be expected to pay his debt if he is in prison.