What is the Kingdom of God? Part Five

SERMON: 01-07-23

       Today will be part five of my multipart series on the Kingdom of God. The Gospel of Matthew records a number of parables that Jesus gave that pertain to the Kingdom of God. 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 emphasis of Jesus’ ministry.  Starting today, I will review and provide commentary on each of these Kingdom parables in the order they appear in the Gospel of Matthew.  Where the Scriptural narrative of a parable is lengthy, I will provide a summary of that parable rather than quote the entire parable.

       There are no Kingdom parables in John.  Neither Mark nor Luke record Kingdom parables that differ in any significant way from what is found in Matthew.  A parable about gathering in the harvest seen in Mark 4:26-29 appears to be a shortened version of the parable of the weeds and seeds found in Matthew 13:24-30.  Luke’s account of the parable of the talents is very similar to the parable of the talents found in Matthew but differs enough to suggest it may have been given at a different time and place during Jesus’ ministry.

       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 he is 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.

PARABLE #1: The Sower of Seed (Matthew 13:3-22, Mark 4:3-20, Luke 8:4-15).

        Matthew 13:1-3 reveals a large crowd had gathered to hear Jesus and that he told them many things in parables.  He began with the parable of the Sower of Seed.  This is the first Kingdom parable recorded in the Gospels. We know this is a Kingdom parable because Jesus identifies this parable as providing secrets of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:11). The narrative about this parable is lengthy so I will provide a summery.

       Jesus speaks of a farmer who went out to sow seed.  Some fell along the path and birds came and ate the seed.  Some fell on rocky places where there was little soil.  This seed produced plants that sprang up quickly but because the soil was shallow, they did not take root and they quickly died.  Some seed fell among thorns which choked the young plants.  Other seed fell on good soil where it produced a crop yielding in some cases a hundred times what was sown and in other cases sixty and thirty times what was sown (Matthew 13:3-8).

       After telling them the parable of the sower, Jesus says to His audience “He who has ears, let him hear."  Matthew then records that the 12 disciples, and apparently others as seen in Mark’ version of this parable (Mark 4:10), asked Jesus why He spoke to the people in parables.  Here is part of His reply as recorded by Matthew and also found in Mark 4:10-12 with similar narrative.

       Matthew 13:11-16.  He replied, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.  Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables: "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: "`You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.' But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.

Commentary on parable #1:The Sower of Seed:

       The Greek rendered “secrets” in Matthew 13:11 is musteerion and means secret teachings that must be revealed in order to be understood.  Jesus said "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” Why was the knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom being withheld from the "them"?  Jesus further said that those to whom these Kingdom secrets are revealed will have an abundance of such knowledge and those to whom such knowledge is not revealed will even have taken away what knowledge they had. 

       When Jesus is asked why he spoke in parables to the people, he says it’s because though they see they really do not see and though they hear they really do not hear or understand.  In not really seeing or hearing, Jesus says they are fulfilling a prophecy of Isaiah.

       Isaiah 6:9-10:  He said, "Go and tell this people: "`Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.' Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."

       While the overall context of the book of Isaiah is an admixture of prophecies about what was to take place in Isaiah’s time and what would take place hundreds of year’s future from the time of Isaiah, much of what we see in the book of Isaiah is the prophet reprimanding the Jews of his day for their many sins and refusal to repent.  Isaiah pictures them as living in virtual rebellion against God.  The statement seen in 6:9-10 appears directed to the Jews of Isaiah’s day.  Jesus is seeing what Isaiah said in 6:9-10 as being fulfilled in His day.

       The Greek word translated “fulfilled” in Matthew 13:15 is a form of the Greek word pleeroo.  This word appears 90 times in the NT and has the basic meaning of “to accomplish, to make full, to fill, to fill up and to fill to the full.”  When audience relevance and context is considered, it is apparent Isaiah was addressing the Jews of his day in saying what he said in 6:9-10. Jesus sees a secondary accomplishment or greater fulfillment of what Isaiah said in addressing the Jews of His day. 

       Jesus follows His quote of Isaiah by saying, “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.”  Why was it that others hearing the Kingdom message where unable to see and hear?  Some believe the non-seers and hearers were purposely withheld from seeing and hearing so they would be unable to understand what was being said and consequently not be healed by Jesus.  Is this the case?  There are some Scriptural passages in Ezekiel and Jeremiah that may provide an answer to this question. 

      Ezekiel 12:1-2: The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people.

       Ezekiel wrote while in captivity in Babylon with his fellow Jews.  Ezekiel writes from the standpoint that the Jews have eyes to see and ears to hear but because they are a rebellious people, they don’t see or hear.  The indication here is that the people had the ability to see and hear but because of their mind set; they saw and heard but could not understand.  Similar indication is given in Jeremiah.

      Jeremiah 5:20-21: "Announce this to the house of Jacob and proclaim it in Judah: Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear:

       As in Ezekiel, the people are seen as having eyes and ears to see and hear but do not. This conclusion about the house of Jacob appears tied to their being foolish and senseless and not that they were purposely blinded from understanding their responsibility before God.

       The writer to the Hebrews shows the Gospel was preached to the ancient Israelites but it was of no value to them not because they were prohibited from understanding it, but because they were unwilling to believe it.

      Hebrews 4:1-2: Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. 

       In Jesus saying what He did about not seeing and not hearing, He makes it very clear why it was that some people were not seeing and hearing. It wasn't because they were purposely kept by God from seeing and hearing. It was because they were of a calloused heart. They were not having their eyes and ears intentionally closed by God so that what Jesus said could not be understood. They were not understanding because they had closed their own ears and eyes.  In paraphrasing Isaiah, Jesus says this:

       Matthew 13:14-15: You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.

       It is instructive that Apostle Paul quotes the same passage from Isaiah that Jesus used. Paul was trying to instruct the Jews as to the Messiahship of Jesus and salvation through Him.  It's apparent that many refused to consider what he was telling them.  Here is what Paul said.

       Acts 28:24-28:  Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: "The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet: "`Go to this people and say, "You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving." For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.'  "Therefore I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!"

       In Paul's quote of Isaiah, it is clear that the reason they did not see and hear is because their hearts had become calloused and not because God purposely prevented them from understanding. The implication is that if they would have been willing to open their eyes and ears and understand with their hearts, they would have been healed.  In other words, God wasn't withholding healing from them.  They were withholding healing from themselves because of their unwillingness to objectively consider what Paul was saying.

       I believe it is scripturally evident that when it is said that eyes are not seeing and ears are not hearing, this is occurring not because of some divinely predetermined proscription against seeing and hearing.  Instead, this is occurring because of the calloused, rebellious, foolish and senseless behavior of the people. The non-seers and hearers where unable to look objectively at what they were seeing and hearing and therefore could not understand.

       It appears that Jesus spoke to them in parables to separate the hearers and seers from the non-hearers and non-seers. He knew the non-seers and hearers would not be able to rise above their paradigms and come to understand the meaning of the parables even when explained to them.  The seers and hearers were able rise above their paradigms and so respond to and understand Jesus' explanations of the parables even though it is apparent this took some time and they didn't fully understand until being given the Spirit of God on Pentecost as we will see.  

       As was true with the people Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah were addressing, the same was true of the people Jesus was addressing.  Just as most of the people during the time of the OT prophets refused to respond to what the prophets were telling them because of their attitudes about things, most of the people the prophet Jesus was addressing were refusing to see and hear what was presented to them because of their attitude about things.

       A major factor that must be considered regarding this issue of seeing/hearing and not seeing/hearing is the matter of one’s paradigm and general frame of reference.  We all know how difficult it is to accept information that runs contrary to our paradigms.  By and large, the Jews of the first century had a different paradigm as to what the Kingdom of God was to be and who the Messiah would be. The paradigm Jesus presented didn’t fit their paradigm.

       The inner circle of Jesus' disciples were taught a correct paradigm about the Kingdom for over three years. Included in this teaching must have been a correct understanding of the location of the kingdom and that it was not of this world as Jesus told Pilate before His crucifixion, at least not of the world Jesus was living in at the time (John 18:36). At one point during His ministry, Jesus sent the twelve disciples out to preach and teach others about the Kingdom (Luke 9:1-10). Surely Jesus would not have sent them out to teach others about the Kingdom if He knew they didn't have a valid understanding as to what the Kingdom was all about. Jesus would not have them teaching false doctrine about the Kingdom. 

       After his resurrection, Jesus spent an additional 40 days teaching His disciples about the kingdom. It should be apparent the disciples present at the ascension understood the basic dynamics of the Kingdom. Yet, it is apparent they did not understand the manner or the time of its restoration which prompted them to ask this question just before the ascension:

       Acts 1:6: So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"     

       The disciples present at the ascension should have understood that the Kingdom was not of the world they and Jesus were part of as Jesus plainly told Pilate.  They should have understood that the seat of authority for the Kingdom was in the Heavenly realm.  Yet, it is apparent they were asking about the restoration of the Kingdom in terms of it being an earthly kingdom. They were thinking in terms of when it would be restored to the Nation of Israel. Jesus explained that only the Father knew when that was going to happen.

       Acts 1:7-8: He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

        It is instructive that Jesus has to explain the parable of the sower to those who are said to be blessed because they have eyes to see and ears to hear. It’s apparent this group had eyes to see and ears to hear because they were not as encumbered by the paradigm’s affecting those that seeing didn’t see and hearing didn’t hear.  They had an open mind to receive new understanding.  However, they still had to have the parables explained to them.

       Mark records only three Kingdom parables and then says, “With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand” Mark 4:33).  It is unclear if Mark meant Jesus spoke many similar parables to the crowd in general or to his inner group of disciples. From what we see in Matthew 13, it would appear that it was to the crowd in general that Mark is referring. If that is the case, the fact Mark says “as much as they could understand,”suggests the crowd in general had the ability to understand the parables and were blinded only because of their paradigms and not because they were being supernaturally prevented from understanding.

       It is instructive that Mark records Jesus as saying to the large Crowd,"He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark 4:9).  Some interpret this as Jesus inviting those who have been predestined to hear to be able to hear while the rest have been predestined not to be able to hear.  However, it is more probable Jesus is calling on all the people hearing Him to open their ears and carefully consider what He is saying.  That this seems to be what Jesus is saying is suggested by what Jesus said as recorded in Mark 4:23-25.

       Mark 4:23-25: If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear." "Consider carefully what you hear," he continued. "With the measure you use, it will be assured to you--and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him."

       The point apparently being made here is that unless you do something with what you are hearing, even what you have heard you will lose. Now let's discuss the parable itself:

       As already covered, the parable is about a farmer sowing seed. Some seed falls in what is apparently bad soil and other seed falls in good soil.  The seed sown by the farmer is the same for both types of soil. There is nothing wrong with the seed.  It's the one type of soil that is a problem.  The productive soil represents those who embrace the Kingdom message and do something with it and the non-productive soil represents those who initially embrace the Kingdom message but are led astray and fail to produce a crop. We see this clearly in all three Scriptural accounts of this parable. Jesus explains that the seed that fell on rocky places represents the man who hears the word and gladly receives it. But since he has no root, when trouble or persecution comes, he quickly falls away.

      Matthew 13:20-21:  The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.

       Mark 4:16-17: Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.

       Luke 8:13: Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.

       The seed that fell among thorns represents the man who receives the word but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke out what he received

      Matthew 13:22: The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.

       Mark 4:18-19: Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

       Luke 8:14: The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.

       Even those who are said to not understand the message are still seen as having some of the message sown in their heart but quickly snatched away by the evil one as Matthew states it.  Mark uses a Greek word rendered in English as Satan and Luke uses a Greek word rendered in English as devil as being responsible for this group not having a chance at understanding the word. The implication here is that what is sown is so quickly snatched away that the person has no real opportunity to understand it. 

      Matthew 13:19: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one (Greek: poneros, means evil influence) comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 

       Mark 4:15: Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan (Greek: Satanas, means the accuser) comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.

       Luke 8:12: Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil (Greek: diabolos, means false accuser) comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.           

         Finally, as all three Gospel accounts record, Jesus explains that those who received the seed that fell on good soil are those who hear the word and understand it and subsequently produce a crop.  Some yield a hundred some sixty and some thirty times what was sown.  The obvious teaching here is that if you understand the message of the Kingdom, such understanding must lead to a certain result. To understand the Kingdom message is to behave in such manner as to generate a measurable effect.  Some will produce more and some will produce less.

       In the parable of the talents, which will be discussed later in this series, it appears those who understand the message of the Kingdom are expected to produce a result commensurate with their ability to do so.  They are expected to produce proportionate to the ability they have, even if that level of ability is small.  The man who received just the one talent in the parable of the talents is condemned for failing to grow the one talent he was given.

       If understanding the message of the Kingdom results in producing a crop, what is the crop that is produced?  It would appear from the teachings of Jesus and Apostle Paul that the crop that is produced is behavioral in nature and is defined by the level of righteousness in which we conduct our lives while living on planet earth.  While it is apparent the Kingdom has location and is defined by power, glory, salvation and governance, as already covered in this series, the Kingdom is also defined as righteous living in the here and now.

       Matthew 6:33: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

       Romans 14:17:  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

       1 Corinthians 6:9: Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?

       In Matthew 6:33 we see Jesus teaching that seeking the Kingdom is equated with seeking the righteousness of God.  Paul plainly teaches that the Kingdom equates to righteous behavior.

       The parable of the sower appears to be teaching that a primary dynamic of the Kingdom of God involves living our lives commensurate with the behavioral standards of the Kingdom, standards that are defined in the Sermon on the Mount and in many additional teachings of Jesus, as well as, teachings of Paul and other NT authors.