Tue, Dec 21, 2010
11 - Mysteries of the Kingdom [a]
Matthew 13 by Robert Dean
Series: Acts (2010)

Mysteries of the Kingdom; Matthew 13


It is important to understand what the Bible teaches about the kingdom of God if we are going to understand a lot of things that went on in the Gospels and what is happening in, especially the first eight chapters of, the book of Acts. This is because this still has to do with this message, this proclamation of what is called the gospel or the good news of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God relates to this word basileia [basileia], the Greek word for kingdom which simply refers to the act of ruling or a territory or dominion or the authority of a king or a kingdom. But when we come to this concept of the kingdom of God there is a lot of confusion. There are people who think that the kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, that somehow Jesus is ruling over this kingdom and it exists in the hearts and minds of His followers. There are others who think of the kingdom as simply a geopolitical economic kingdom that is related to just the restoration of Israel, the land of Israel. There are other variations and different ideas of the kingdom.

The word "kingdom" is used in reference to God in two different ways. It is used in the sense of the broad, general sovereign authority of God as the creator of all things and His sovereign authority over His creation. In that sense we speak of the universal or sovereign reign of God and that His kingdom is forever and ever. That universal reign of God over His creation is distinguished from a specific expression of His rule on the earth which is sometimes referred to by the term "theocratic kingdom," the direct rule of God over man. There is the direct rule of God in terms of His presence with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, up to the fall of man. That is the first form of a theocratic rule, the personal rule of God, over His creation. Following the fall there is no a direct rule of God over His creation until He appears to Moses on Mount Sinai, gives him the covenant, the prelude of which are the ten commandments, and then the 613 commandments of the Torah, the Mosaic Law, and God is seen as the King over Israel. There is not a human king, and it is not until the rejection of God occurs in 1 Samuel 8 that God then allows Samuel, the first prophet, to anoint the first king of the United Kingdom of Israel, King Saul. Saul turns out to be a dismal failure and doesn't have the spiritual integrity to rule the kingdom. In that Saul foreshadows the basic problem of all politics, which is what Samuel had warned the Israelites about, and that is that eventually power tends to accrue to the powerful and there is always a move to increase taxation, to increase tyranny over the people, to draft the citizens of the kingdom into the service of the kingdom, and so the government expands.

Government always tends to expand and increase its size until there is some sort of collapse because the country becomes top heavy, and when all power accrues to a ruler then there is tyranny. Freedom breaks down and eventually there is some kind of collapse. This is what happened in the Old Testament. God promised that one of David's descendants would sit eternally on the throne of Israel. There cannot be someone to sit on the throne forever unless that person has eternal life, and so there is already the implication by the covenant that there is going to be a physical descendant of David who will sit on the throne of David forever and ever. This means He has to be eternal, and there is the implication of eternal life. This is what is then referenced in Micah 5:2 where there is the prophecy that when the Messiah came He would be born in Bethlehem, a seemingly inconsequential town. But the one who would be born in Bethlehem in that passage is one whose goings forth are from eternity past. He is born, indicating humanity, but He has always existed. That indicates He is eternal so He must also be God.

What we find in these messianic prophecies and promises in the Old Testament is an emphasis that there will be a coming King who will be both human and divine because only a divine ruler who is without sin, without flaw or failure, can truly rule the kingdom and provide true justice and righteousness. All the human kings failed and there were only a handful of kings in the southern kingdom of Judah who even approached the pattern the model that God set forth in the Torah. They had great failures and the rest of the kings in both the northern and southern kingdoms were all failures. Ultimately no human institution, no human king, can truly solve the problems of human society and human nature. This ultimately goes down to the problem of sin.

So throughout the Old Testament there is this promise that continues to become unfolded more and more in these prophetic statements that there is a coming King. That coming King is identified with the title of the anointed one or the Messiah. Coming into the period of time we refer to as the first century AD there is this expectation that the Messiah is going to come. Suddenly on to the scene comes this really strange figure who walks around in camel's hair and eating locusts and honey, and lives out in the desert by himself. But he has a message, and his message is that the people needed to repent or to change because the kingdom of heaven was near, indicating that it was possible if they fulfilled the command to turn back to God the kingdom that had been promise for the last 1000 years or so would come I to existence. That was John the Baptist. He fulfilled the role that was prophesied in Malachi chapter four that there would be a forerunner to the Messiah who would prepare the way for Him. Then Jesus came along with the same message and He was the King. He was offering the kingdom, the Davidic kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament, to Israel. They rejected it. We have seen the increase of tension between Jesus and the Pharisees and Sadducees, everything came to a head in Matthew chapter twelve. He was accused of having power from the devil and that it was Satan who gave Him the power to cast out demons, etc. and that is when Jesus made the statement that they had blasphemed against the Holy Spirit and because of that would not have an opportunity to be saved. He is not talking about eternal salvation there, He is talking about the fact that the kingdom has been offered to Israel, the nation had rejected that offer, and so now there would be consequences which led eventually to the judgment and destruction of AD 70.

At that point in Matthew 13 Jesus began to change gears in how He was teaching His disciples. Prior to that He had taught more openly but now He teaches in parables. He didn't give the clues to the parables to the crowds. When the disciples would go off with Him on His own afterward they would ask what exactly He meant. Then Jesus would explain the parables to the disciples and the point that He was making is the point that is made in Matthew 13:11 NASB "Jesus answered them, 'To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.'" When we look at this term "mystery" in the Bible it is used as a technical term for previously unknown or unrevealed information from God. What Jesus says is that basically up to this point there was not a realization that Israel would reject the King and now that they have rejected Him God is going to go to plan B, as it were, which is going to postpone the kingdom and there is going to be an intervening age, a dispensation, a period of time before the Messiah will establish the kingdom. Now He is going to reveal certain characteristics of this intervening period/age, and that is what is called the mystery doctrine of the kingdom or mystery form of the kingdom.

The reason this is important for our study in Acts is because what Luke is saying in Acts 1:3 is that during this forty-day period Jesus is teaching concerning the kingdom. So what is He teaching concerning the kingdom? That is what we have to understand because there is so much confusion over this topic. If we don't locate that contextually within the life of Christ and what has been going on then it is easy for people to just make that mean whatever they want it to mean, basically make it up on the spot, and say they think it is this or they think it is that; and you can't do that, you can't just come along and say well this is my opinion. We have top argue for things like this, look at them in terms of their context, and what Jesus is doing very simply is saying that the kingdom is not going to come now. The leadership of Israel rejected it and it is going to be postponed. So there is going to be an intervening age and it will have certain characteristics. As part of these characteristics there is going to be a new people called out by God, that which we refer to as the church. It is not that God has permanently rejected Israel; it is that the plan for Israel is put on hold, there is something new that comes in in the intervening period and that will have some unique aspects to it, especially related to the spiritual life. This becomes the focal point, then, of the New Testament but it is the focal point of Jesus' teaching during the last year or so from Matthew 12 until the ascension recorded in Acts 1:6ff. So that is what Jesus begins to do in Matthew chapter 13.

The term "mystery" does not refer to a mystery form of the kingdom. There is no mystery form; we are not in a form of the kingdom. The kingdom is clearly a national Geophysical, economic kingdom located in Israel with Jerusalem as the capital, and with a Davidic descendant sitting on the throne ruling over the government of Israel. That isn't happening today, it is still something that is going to happen in the future. The Messianic kingdom is in the future and then there will be an eternal theocratic kingdom.

These parable which are often taught by people to have something to do with salvation don't really have anything to do with salvation. The gospel message here isn't the gospel for salvation in terms of where we will end up in eternity, the gospel message is related to the kingdom. So when Jesus began with the first parable, the parable of the sower, He doesn't say, as he does in all the other parables in this chapter (except for the last one), "the kingdom of God is like." Once we get into the second parable He starts with this opening phrase "the kingdom of God is like, the kingdom of God is compared to." At the beginning He just tells a story in an agricultural setting.

Matthew 13:3-8 NASB "And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, 'Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some {seeds} fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.'"

That is not talking about the Christian life. That is a very popular teaching but that is not what this is talking about because verse 10ff gives us the real hermeneutical clue to understanding this. Matthew 13:10 NASB "And the disciples came and said to Him, 'Why do You speak to them in parables?' [11] Jesus answered them, 'To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.'" The issue is revelation. There are people who have rejected what has been revealed about the kingdom, that Jesus is the King, and so for them that information is not going to be given to them, but to those who have accepted it more information about the kingdom is going to be given to them. [12] "For whoever has [revelation; accepted the message of the kingdom], to him {more} shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. [13] Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand." Then He quotes from the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah that was originally directed to the spiritual darkness of the people in Isaiah's day. They just didn't want to hear from God, they wanted to go their own way. In contrast to that generation Jesus addressed His disciples and said [16] "But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear." They were positive to the message of the kingdom.

Starting in verse 19 He interprets the kingdom. Matthew 13:19 NASB "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil {one} comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road." He is not talking about the gospel per se here, He is talking about the message that He has been proclaiming about the coming of the Messianic kingdom which has now been postponed. [20] "The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; [21] yet he has no {firm} root in himself, but is {only} temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away." The focal point is verse 23: "And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil [received the message of the kingdom], this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty." The bearing of fruit has to do with application of the message of the kingdom, that it has an impact on their life. What was the command? "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand." What did John the Baptist mean by that? What did Jesus mean when He said, Repent? It has nothing to do with feeling sorry for sins, it has to go all the way back into the Old Testament in Deuteronomy chapter thirty where Moses in his final words to the Israelites before he died said that they were going to go through some discipline from God, they were going to reject God to such a degree that eventually God would punish them by talking them out of the land that He promised them. But there is always grace in the midst of judgment. There would come a time when God would bring them back, but before He did they would have to turn back to Him.

Deuteronomy 30:2 NASB "and you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, [3] then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you." That is the message. So the people who received this have turned back to God and so the message is then bearing fruit in their lives.

The next parable focuses on another agricultural analogy which an extension really of the first parable. Matthew 13:24 NASB "Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field.'" This is the same kind of thing. The man who is sowing good seed is Jesus as the King offering the kingdom, the seed is still the message of the kingdom. [25] "But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares [darnel, a weed that resembles wheat but doesn't produce anything] among the wheat, and went away. [26] But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. [27] The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?' [28] And he said to them, 'An enemy has done this!' The slaves said to him, 'Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?' [29] But he said, 'No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. [30] 'Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.'"

The point that we see here chronologically is that there is a period when the good and evil are going to coexist, and that ends with a judgment. What we learn from putting together the other parables is that that judgment must occur before the kingdom comes in. So this is describing now new information for the disciples, that there is going to be an intervening age in which the sons of the kingdom, i.e. those who eventually will end up in the kingdom in the future after death, resurrection, etc., will be sown to the world. And in this new age good and evil are going to coexist together and nothing can be done about it until the end of the age. That means that the good and the evil will coexist together until that judgment comes. When the judgment comes that is when there is the separation of good and evil. This is then expressed in vv. 39, 40. Matthew 13:39 NASB "and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. [40] So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age." The end of the age is not the end of the kingdom but the end of this age that is going to come between His period of time and the establishment of the kingdom.

When we put this together with other areas of prophecy we see that the angels play a key role in the end time judgments that occur when Jesus comes back, when the Messianic kingdom is established, and this is predicted not only in the Old Testament passages like Daniel, Ezekiel and Isaiah but is also picked up and developed in New Testament books such as Revelation. God uses the angels to bring back all of the elect, those who are saved, to separate the evil from the good, and then there will be a judgment. This precedes the establishment of the kingdom because the kingdom has to begin with everyone that is righteous. There is not going to be in the Messianic kingdom the coexistence of evil and good.

Matthew 13:41 NASB "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, [42] and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." In Daniel chapter seven the Son of Man [the eternal second person of the Trinity] is with the Ancient of Days [God the Father]. The Son of Man is then given the kingdom by the Ancient of Days, God the Father. Then He returns to the earth to rescue Israel and to establish the Messianic kingdom. Why does it say in v. 41 "gather out of His kingdom"? It hasn't been established yet. When the Son of Man returns He is establishing His kingdom but there are these leftovers from the previous age and there has to be this clearing out that occurs. That is what Daniel 12:1  refers to in terms of the judgment at the end of the age, and that is what we see at the conclusion of the Tribulation period. Daniel talks about a 75-day period of transition between the end of his seventieth week and the beginning of the kingdom when these judgments take place. [43] "Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear." If you are really listening, if you are really interested in truth, you will pay attention and apply what I have just taught. That is the interpretation of the tares.

The point that He is making, the previously unrevealed information here, is that the intervening age will be an age when evil coexists with righteousness and that at the end of the age there must be a division, a judgment to clear out the evil so that the kingdom of the Messiah can be established. We see again that judgment must occur before the kingdom is established.

Then He gives us another parable, the parable of the mustard seed. Matthew 13:31 NASB "He presented another parable to them, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; [32] and this is smaller than all {other} seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES.'" When He uses this approach saying "The kingdom of heaven is like" He is not comparing anything within the parable to the kingdom, He is simply using the story to express different truths about the intervening age before the kingdom of heaven is established. "Smaller than all other seeds" indicates that it has an inauspicious beginning. Jesus of Nazareth the son of a carpenter growing up in a little town is an inauspicious beginning. "But when it is grown," etc. This kind of imagery comes out of the Old Testament as well and it pictures something that grows rapidly and is very prosperous from an external viewpoint. So what this is expressing is the growth that takes place during the intervening period, the growth of Christendom from the viewpoint of man. So there are two things emphasized here. First of all, the kingdom message will expand rapidly in the intervening age, there will be an extraordinary growth of the kingdom message in the age before the kingdom—which we have seen over the past two thousand years. Initially the gospel in the first century spread all over the world. Second, the prosperous growth is so large that the birds dwell in the branches. In other words, there is going to be a blessing to the whole world as a result of its expanse.

The third parable is very short. Matthew 13:33 NASB "He spoke another parable to them, 'The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.'" There are some who try to make this positive, but it is not. Leaven is always negative, it represents evil. It was to be removed during the feast of unleavened bread in the Jewish calendar because it depicts evil. There is no leaven in the Passover meal because it pictures the presence of evil. So when "the kingdom is like leaven" indicates that while there is expansion from the external viewpoint, from God's perspective there is evil in the intervening age. It also reflects the tares growing up in the second parable. So the parable of the mustard seed indicates the expansion that appeared in the eyes of men whereas the parable of the leaven gives God's view that evil permeates everything in terms of the externals of Christendom during this age. This has to reach its fruition prior to judgment and the establishment of the kingdom—"until it was all leavened." Once it reaches that expansion then that is when the judgment comes and when the kingdom is then going to be established.

Matthew 13:44 NASB "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid {again;} and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." The treasure is the kingdom—the message of the kingdom, the promise of the kingdom, the hope of the kingdom that came out of the Old Testament. So it is a reference to the kingdom and the hope of the kingdom for Israel as they saw it and understood it in the Old Testament. That is their future hope, their messianic hope: that the kingdom will come. So the kingdom of heaven is like this treasure but it gets hidden in a field, it gets covered up, it gets lost, it gets camouflaged, overgrown. What happened to it? This is what happens when the kingdom under Solomon reaches the high water mark, the apex of its glory in ancient Israel; and then when Solomon rejected God, is influenced by his wives and brings in all of the other religions of their home countries, establishes all of the alternate worship sites around Jerusalem, and then there is this downhill slide. After he does there is the tax revolt that occurs and the northern ten tribes split off from the southern two tribes. There was the northern kingdom of Israel that was always reprobate, and then the southern kingdom of Judah was mostly reprobate but there were six kings that were positive though they all had flaws and failures. So the concept of the kingdom, the promise, the prophecy of the kingdom becomes hidden in the apostasy that occurred in Israel. God warned through Isaiah and through the other prophets that the northern kingdom would be defeated, destroyed and wiped out by the Assyrians. Many of those people saw it coming and went south to Judah so that there are clear survivors of all the tribes in the southern kingdom of Judah. But Judah also fell prey to apostasy so that by the time following Hezekiah everything just goes down hill, with the exception of Josiah, until God swears that He is not going to restore the kingdom but is going to take them out by means of Babylon.

So the kingdom message gets hidden until a man finds it. This is a reference to Jesus, He is referring to Himself. He finds it and is presenting it to Israel, but when they reject it in Matthew chapter twelve it gets hidden again. He sells all that He has and buys the field. That is redemption. The purchase of the field is a picture of the redemptive death of Jesus. The picture here is that the mystery that is revealed is a temporary setting aside of Israel's kingdom, redemption has been accomplished but the unveiling of the kingdom of Israel is yet future, it has been postponed.

That takes us to the next parable. Matthew 13:45 NASB "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, [46] and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it." Notice the contrast between the pearls in verse 45 and the one pearl in verse 46. He found one pearl of great price. There have been volumes written trying to figure out what this is talking about but to be consistent within the flow of the parables in Matthew 13 this is talking about the intervening age. What is the valuable one thing in the intervening age before the kingdom? It is the church. The one pearl pictures the unified church. The church is one entity spiritually; it is the unity of the church, the oneness of the church. The buying of it, the purchase of it, always speaks of redemption. So this is speaking again that the man purchases the church. The parable of the hidden treasure is redemption for Israel; the picture here is redemption for the church. The one thing that is left out here is when it is revealed, and it is revealed when the kingdom is established. 

Matthew 13:47 NASB "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering {fish} of every kind" – everything gets picked up. This is parallel to the wheat and the tares. [48] It reaches a certain point, the same thing as "until everything was leavened" in the parable of the leaven; "and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down and gathered the good {fish} into containers, but the bad they threw away." This is the same as separating the wheat and the tares at the end of the age. It is the judgment, separating the good from the bad, the righteous from the unrighteous. [49] The application. "So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, [50] and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." This is once again emphasizing long-term painful eternal punishment for the unjust.

The n Jesus turns to His disciples and gives them a little final exam question. Matthew 13:51 NASB "Have you understood all these things?" They said to Him, "Yes." Then He gives them one last statement. It really isn't one of the parables but it sort of ties it all up. Matthew 13:52 NASB "And Jesus said to them, 'Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.'" Who was against Him? The scribes and the Pharisees. They have rejected His offer of the kingdom and so Jesus has rejected the scribes of Israel and He is brining in new scribes, the writers of the New Testament. Those who have "become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven" are the disciples who are in front of Him, the authors of the New Testament. The "things new" are the new doctrines pertaining to the kingdom and preparation for the kingdom that Jesus is now teaching; "the old" is what had already been revealed in the Old Testament. When He talks about the scribes He is alluding to their future role and that they will teach that which is out of the Old Testament and that which is new, that which Jesus is beginning to unfold for them.

There is another passage that also indicates that the kingdom is completely postponed. In Luke 22 Jesus is talking to His disciples at the last supper and in the course of that Passover meal Jesus said: "I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, "I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." Luke 22:17 NASB "And when He had taken a cup {and} given thanks, He said, 'Take this and share it among yourselves; [18] for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.'" He doesn't see this as coming in partially, He sees this as "I am not going to eat or drink until the kingdom comes in." And that is depicted in Revelation and in some of the other parables when Jesus talks in terms of prophecy, when there is the wedding feast of the Lamb that occurs at the beginning of the Millennial kingdom and there is this great celebration that occurs. So the kingdom of God is postponed.

In this final period of time when Jesus is teaching the disciples He has to prepare them for this previously unforseen period of time that is going to come between His death, resurrection and ascension and His return to establish the kingdom. There are going to be new elements about this period of time. So it is at the last supper as described in John chapters 13-16 Jesus begins to teach them for the first time about the spiritual life of the intervening age. So when we come to Acts 1:3 what Jesus is doing is going back over and over the lessons He taught in Matthew 13. There is an intervening age that is going to be different. Evil and good will coexist. All of that has to happen, it can't be dealt with until the end of the age when there is a judgment, and that judgment has to come before the kingdom is established. What is the role of the intervening age? It is to prepare a second group of people of God called the church and they are going to become the bride of Christ. They will be the ones who rule and reign with Christ when He comes in His kingdom, so the life of the believer during that intervening age is oriented towards that future kingdom. That is why the kingdom is important, not because we are in the kingdom, not because we are living for the kingdom, but because we are preparing for the kingdom and we are living today in light of that future destiny, that future role, when we come into the kingdom.