Mysteries of the Kingdom: Intervening Age
Matthew Lesson #079
May 24, 2015
“Our Father, we are so very grateful that we have Your Word, that you have revealed Yourself to us. And in your revelation, we have come to understand who You are, who we are, and the impossibility of saving ourselves; and that You have provided a perfect complete salvation for us, demonstrating Your love by sending Your Son, the eternal Second Person of the Trinity, to enter into human history and to die on the cross as a substitute for us, fulfilling all those pictures and shadows and types from the Old Testament that the death of a sacrifice pictured as a lamb without spot or blemish was necessary in order to pay the sin penalty to cover sin and to provide eternal cleansing and forgiveness.
We thank You for that forgiveness that we have in Christ, and that on that basis, we know that we have eternal life: life that can never be taken from us because we did nothing to earn it or deserve it, and we can do nothing to lose it.
Now Father we pray that as we study Your Word today in a passage that is difficult for some to understand, that we might come to be reminded of Your grace, Your goodness, and how You continue to provide for all mankind, Your grace throughout this age.
We pray this in Christ’s Name, Amen.”
[Slide 3] Pivot in the Life of Christ
We need to begin with a bit of a review because this whole chapter is a very long chapter. It goes down through verse 58. We’re only going to get through verse 52, I hope, this morning because these parables really need to be studied as they relate to one another. There’s a unity to these parables that is significant, and they must be understood within the context of what Matthew has been saying—how Matthew has organized his material related to the life of Christ.
I’ve pointed out in the past that in each of the gospel presentations, there is a general pattern. That pattern begins with the arrival of the King, specifically the birth of Messiah, as given in the gospels in Matthew and Luke, not in Mark and John. But when He begins His public ministry, that public ministry is characterized by the offer of the King and kingdom. This pattern is seen primarily in the three synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John looks at things from a different perspective.
We have the beginning part of His ministry emphasizing the offer of the King and the kingdom. The message of the forerunner John the Baptist was “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus came on the scene and said the same thing, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Then He sent out his disciples to proclaim the same thing, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
The point was that they were announcing something that had been predicted in the Old Testament: that God had promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that they would have a future glorious kingdom, where the center of worship throughout the world would be in the temple in Jerusalem; and there would be a physical, geo-political kingdom in Israel; that government would be centered in the person of the King who was a descendant of David, reigning from Jerusalem. So they expected that kind of glorious kingdom to come.
The kingdom was offered, and then it reaches this point where the tension, the opposition from the religious leaders, increases to where they publicly reject His person and His message. They reject the King and the kingdom, and they accuse Him, as we’ve seen in Matthew 12, of performing His miracles in the power of Satan and the power of the Devil.
There’s a major shift that takes place at that point in Jesus’ ministry. Up to that point, He’s been offering the kingdom to Israel. He’s been performing His miracles publicly. He has been teaching openly about the coming of the kingdom, but that offer never occurs again. He never performs miracles publicly again. There is a shift. He withdraws the offer of the kingdom, and this is all covered in Matthew 12. Matthew 12 describes that turning point; and as we study that chapter, the last events in the chapter all took place in the same place, on the same day.
Three events took place in the house: the last three events where Jesus cast the demon out of the demon-possessed man, at which time they accused Him of doing His miracles in the power of Satan. That was the event that took place.
The second thing that took place, that grew out of that, was that Jesus then announced that they had committed an unpardonable or unforgivable sin, something that a lot of people get confused about and concerned about, thinking that “well, have I ever committed an unpardonable or unforgivable sin?” And no, you haven’t because in context, what we see here is that this is an historic sin that could only take place in light of the offer of the Messianic Kingdom by the Messiah to Israel; and it was not a sin of eternal salvation consequences.
The forgiveness talked about there wasn’t related to eternal salvation, but was related to the national destiny of the Jewish people—that they had rejected this offer of the King and the kingdom, and therefore God was rejecting them temporarily. He was removing that offer of the kingdom and was going to bring discipline upon the nation as had been announced in the Old Testament in passages such as Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27 and 28—that there would be judgment; and the people and the nation would be destroyed; and the people would be scattered among all of the nations. So this is the second thing He announced: that they had committed an unforgivable sin, and the consequences of that were irreversible.
Then the third thing that happens is that the Pharisees ask for another sign, and they’re not really sincere about that request. They’ve seen sign after sign after sign after sign. They rejected them all. They’re really asking for something that would go above and beyond any sort of miracle that Jesus had performed, and the miracles that He had performed were all clearly miracles that, according to rabbinical theology, would be the kind of miracles that only the Messiah could perform: giving sight to someone who’d been blind all their life; healing lepers; forgiving sin. This was unique, distinct to the Messiah. Jesus says He won’t give them anymore signs.
The only sign will be that of Jonah. Jonah was swallowed by the fish and was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights; and that is an illusion to His future death, burial, and resurrection—that He would be buried for three days and three nights, and then rise from the dead.
At that point they’re telling Him, “No, you can’t really be this serious. You’ve got to take care of us; we’re your flesh and blood. You’re a Jew. We’re a Jew. You can’t reject us like this. In fact, your mother and your brothers are outside, and you need to take care of your own.” He says, “These are my mother, my brother, my family because no longer is this relationship based upon a physical relationship, but it is based upon those who trust in Me, who accept Me as Savior.”
This is a sign that He is rejected from the nation. So in chapter 13, He withdrew from the house. We saw this last time. He goes out to sit by the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
He began to speak to them in parables. A parable was designed to do two things: to obscure truth to some, and to reveal truth to others. He was intentionally obscuring truth to those who had already rejected truth. He is not doing this because He is being mean. He’s doing this because they’ve already said, “We don’t want the truth. We’ve rejected the truth. We’re not going to believe the truth.” Now rather than exacerbate their rejection at this stage, He is going to cloak what He is teaching in parables to those who have already accepted, and they’re defined in the text as those who have ears to hear. They’re already positive to the gospel. They’re already positive to Jesus’ message, and so they are going to hear new truth that they will come to understand because they are already responsive to His person and His message.
A parable is a way of teaching. It’s a figure of speech. It is similar to a simile or metaphor that is comparing something known to something unknown. It goes beyond a simile or metaphor in that it is a story. So in that sense it is somewhat like an allegory, but an allegory is going to even be different from a parable. A parable is a story that’s told about familiar circumstances, people, or actions in order to teach new and unfamiliar truths. It differs in that it is a story or narrative designed to teach one or two principle points through parallelism, and unlike an allegory, it focuses on real people, and the actions of real people. Allegories, fables, and myths are not necessarily true to life, but a parable would be true to life.
Another thing we need to understand about parables is that the purpose of this parable was to teach or reveal previously unknown truth, previously unrevealed truth. This information wasn’t available by studying the Old Testament Scripture.
He had never announced the rejection of the kingdom. Up to this point the offer has been made. Now the offer is withdrawn, and the question would be, “Well, if the kingdom doesn’t come now, what’s going to happen? What’s going to take place?” And so He is announcing through these parables something about the intervening age.
Now when you read the opening of these parables, and it says, “He began to speak to them in parables, talking about the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” Sometimes this is read as a mystery form of the kingdom or previously unrevealed truth about what happens within the kingdom itself.
We know that it’s not talking about what happens within the kingdom itself for a number of reasons. The events in these parables do not reflect the conditions within the kingdom itself. For example, Revelation 22 teaches that Satan is going to be bound during the period of the kingdom. For a thousand years, Satan is bound and has no influence on the earth; and yet we’re told in the second parable that there is an enemy who comes and sows tares among the wheat; and that enemy is identified as the Devil. Well, the Devil will not be sowing tares among the wheat during the Millennial Kingdom. So obviously, this isn’t talking about what happens within that 1,000-year rule and reign of Christ in the kingdom. It’s giving us new information about the kingdom because the kingdom is going to be postponed, and there’s going to be a previously unannounced intervening period.
The major part of that intervening period is the Church Age, but this takes place about a year or so, we’re not sure exactly, but a year or so before the crucifixion. This intervening period that is being talked about here would begin at this point, and it would cover the period up until the Day of Pentecost, which is still part of the Age of Israel. It’s not part of the Church Age. Then it would cover the period from the Day of Pentecost until the Rapture of the Church, which is the Church Age. The major part of this period is, of course, the Church Age, but then it would also cover the period that comes after the Rapture of the Church, which is the Tribulation, the seven-year Tribulation period.
These principles are truth throughout three different dispensations: The Age of Israel, and this initial period, which would last about a year or so; then the Church Age; and then the Tribulation period. It’s not distinctive. The mysteries about the kingdom here are not just focusing on what will transpire in the Church Age. You can’t take this and equate this time period to simply the Church Age. It is broader than that, and that’s an important thing to recognize.
So He starts off with the parable of the sower, and the parables of soils.
Let me just review, there are eight parables here. Last time I mentioned seven. You will read different enumerations here, and that is based one of several factors.
Dwight Pentecost and his book, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ: A Study of the Life of Christ, says that there are nine, but that’s because he includes one that’s in Mark that is not included in the eight here.
Others have said there are seven, and they leave out the last one, which is covered primarily in Matthew 13: 52, “then he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like’ ”—there’s the key word that shows that it’s a parable—“ ‘is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old’.” Some people include that in the list, some people don’t. That’s why last week I said seven, but I’m going to include that as part. It’s the closing parable.
So you have eight parables mentioned here. The first one and the last one do not begin with the phrase, “The kingdom of heaven is like.” They don’t use that phrase. They’re talking about more universal principles in those two parables, but the ones in the middle, the six in the middle, are the ones that give information about the intervening age.
They are the parable of the soils from Matthew 13:3–9 where it’s initially given. Then the Lord explains it in Matthew 13:19–23.
The parable of the wheat and the tares are given in Matthew 13:24–30; and then they are explained down in Matthew 13:36–43.
Then you have the parable of the mustard seed in Matthew 13:31–32.
The parable of the leaven in Matthew 13:33–35.
Then there’s an interlude that comes when He is talking to his disciples: He sends the multitude away, and then He explains to them and interprets for them the parable of the tares.
Then He gives some more parables, and this is directed to the disciples only:
The parable of the hidden treasure in Matthew 13:44.
The parable of the pearl of great price Matthew 13:45–46.
The parable of the dragnet Matthew 13:47–50.
Then there’s a brief interlude in Matthew 13:51 when He says, “Have you understood all these things?” And they say, “Yes!” Why are they able to understand all these things? Because once He interpreted the first and the second one, then they could understand what the subsequent ones were because He gave them the key. But He only gave the key to the disciples. He didn’t give it to the multitudes.
Then there’s the final summary parable, the parable of the householder.
So let’s begin by looking at these particular parables.
Now just a reminder for you again, He’s not talking about a mystery form of the kingdom. We’re not living in any form of the kingdom today.
Amillennialism, which is a compound word from a Greek prefix a, meaning not or none, and the Latin word mille, meaning a thousand, is an early church position that came into existence after allegorical interpretation entered into Christianity, and it was a position that there’s no literal thousand year rule and reign of Christ—a complete rejection of the literal teaching of Revelation 20.
This also rejected the idea that God had a future plan for Israel; and inherent within Amillennialism was the idea that the church replaced Israel. This has come to be called Replacement Theology. In its most horrible form, it has become a rationalization for anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and being anti-Israel.
Amillennialism believes that the kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, Jesus is ruling from the spiritual throne of David in Heaven right now and that the spiritual form of the kingdom is equivalent to the church. Jesus will just return at the end of the age, and poof, that’s it. It’s all over with. That’s Amillennialism.
Postmillennialism teaches that Jesus will return after the church brings in the kingdom. “Post” meaning after.
But we are Premillennialist. We believe Jesus will return before the kingdom, and He will return in the future to establish the kingdom—that the kingdom has not yet been inaugurated and will only come into existence in the future.
Now one of the problems today is a development in the study of prophecy in the last 75 years, which is the idea that we are in some form of the kingdom. It’s been inaugurated; and therefore, in some of its extreme forms, you have the teaching that because we’re in some form of the kingdom, we can have miracles and healings and things of this nature. It’s a foretaste of what will come in the future kingdom.
However, it’s very clear from Scripture that the kingdom has been postponed, that when the kingdom comes, the Old Testament teaches, it happens at the same time that Israel is fully restored to the land, and that they have a King on the throne of David in Jerusalem, who is a descendent of King David in fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant. The kingdom doesn’t come until the Abrahamic Covenant, the Land Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, the New Covenant are all fulfilled, which occurs at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
What we see is that Jesus has announced that the kingdom is going to be taken from Israel, and it would be given to a people who produced the fruit of righteousness—that’s in Matthew 21:43; that Jerusalem will come under judgment—that’s described in the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24:37–39; and that the land of Israel will come under the domination of the Gentiles—and that’s described in Luke 21:24. When that runs its course, when the Times of the Gentiles runs its course, then that will be at the time when Jesus returns to establish His kingdom. We’re not in any form of the kingdom today. This view that is often popularized today is called the Already-But-Not-Yet-View of the Kingdom—we already have the kingdom, but it’s not yet fully here. I reject that completely. That is not biblical at all.
As we look at these parables—we looked at the parables of the soils last time—and just a brief review: that this parable does not state like the next six do—that the kingdom is like. It is simply expressing the different kinds of responses there will be and that there are, to the message of the kingdom.
These represent the kinds of responses to the message of John the Baptist, the kind of responses to Jesus’ message, the kind of responses that the disciples had already experienced. By application, this represents the four kinds of responses that would continue through the intervening age—from this time to the Ascension of Christ, in the Day of Pentecost, during the Church Age, as well as in the time of the Tribulation.
There are four responses that are indicated here:
The first response is the person who rejects the message. Verse 19, “When anyone hears the Word of the kingdom and does not understand it then the wicked one—that’s Satan—comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.” This is he who received seed by the wayside.
As we look at this parable, there are three basic elements that are identified:
The sower is the one who proclaims the message of the kingdom. When Jesus explains this, He’s just the one that’s proclaiming the message of the kingdom, but He’s further identified ultimately as the Son of Man when He explains the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13:37.
The good seed is the message of the kingdom, the message about the kingdom that is the good seed.
Then the field in this passage, the field is the heart. It’s the soul or the mind of the individual hearer. Now when Jesus explains the parable of the tares, He says the field is the world, so you have to watch this.
So we have these three elements, the sower, the seed, and the field.
Now the good seed, by way of the parable—and this is important to understand—produces what kind of plant? It either produces nothing or it produces wheat, right? That’s it. It doesn’t produce a tare. The good seed only produces nothing because there’s no response, that’s the first one, or it produces something; but even the second seed that falls among the rocky soil, the stony places, there’s something that’s springs up. There’s germination; there is life. As I pointed out last time, that when you compare this with the passage in Luke—that the rocky soil receives with joy the Word—the word that is used in Matthew for receiving the seed is the same word used in John 1:12, “As many as received Him to them gave He the power to be called the Sons of God, even to those who believe on His Name.” So “receiving” is a word that is used as a synonym for someone who has accepted or trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior.
The first person rejects; the second receives. There’s life initially, but then that life gets choked out through tribulation and persecution. So this is a person who becomes a believer, but they don’t learn much, they don’t grow any, but they’re still saved. The second person is the seed that falls among the thorns: there’s growth, but no fruit. I have some plants like that. They grow, but they don’t produce any fruit for whatever reason.
Spiritual growth is not the same as spiritual fruit. I think this is a problem with a lot of people. When they read this, they think that the only person that’s saved is the last one because they think fruit is what happens to every person who is saved, but you have to have growth before you can produce fruit.
If you know anything about growing anything, you plant the seed, some time goes by while it’s germinating, and it produces a seedling. Then there’s a period of growth, could be 60 days, 90 days, 120 days. In the case of an oak tree, it’s 80 years before it produces fruit. So there’s growth that takes place, and fruit comes out of a mature plant.
So responses 2, 3, and 4 are initially responsive to the message. They receive it, but only the fourth one produces fruit, and produces fruit in varying degrees, some 100 fold, some 60 fold and some 30 fold. This lays the foundation for what we’re talking about. The seed is the good seed. It is the gospel, and it only produces—what?—wheat.
Now we come to the second parable, the parable of the wheat and the tares. The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. Now I’m not going to read through verse 30 because that’s the telling of it. We’ll just focus on verses 36 and following where Jesus explains the meaning of it.
This one who sows the seed is the Son of Man. Let’s put our key up here on the screen.
The sower is now identified as the Son of Man, and ultimately it is the Son of Man, even when we’re proclaiming the gospel, we are proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, so ultimately, it goes back to the Lord Jesus Christ, so the sower is the Son of Man.
The field—He says—is the world. The field is the world, so the sower is the Son of Man, and the good seed, of course, is the message. The field is the world. We’ll see in this that the product of the good seed is believers. So that identifies this. He scatters the seed, the seed germinates, produces wheat. That’s all related to that first parable.
Then what happens is that an enemy comes in and sows another seed, another message, and that seed produces a counterfeit: it produces something called tares, or the actual name of the plant is darnel. The idea of this is that the darnel is a counterfeit—it is a fake wheat. When it first germinates, and you have the seedling, and as it grows until it reaches the point of producing a fruit, it looks just like the wheat. You can’t tell a difference between the darnel and the wheat until fruit production begins. What we see here is a fake wheat, a counterfeit wheat, and this does not relate to any of those other soils in the first parable. That was all related to something that was the wheat plant.
Now that’s important because there are a lot of people who teach that the only person saved in that first parable is the seed that produces different levels of fruit. But what we see here is that even when there’s germination and growth, there’s life, but it is still wheat, isn’t it? It does not become the counterfeit Christian. That is what comes from a different kind of seed.
A counterfeit Christian is a person who says I’m a Christian, but they’ve never understood the gospel. There are a lot of people like that in Christendom. They were born into a Christian family. They went to a Christian school. They go to a church; and they’re not Jewish, they’re not Muslim, so therefore, they’re Christian. There are a lot of people who make this claim. I’m a Christian. That is a false profession.
A false profession has to be understood. This terminology is used a lot by people. They will say, “That person, look at their life, how they’re sinful, they’re licentious; they’re all of these things, how can they be a believer?”
Well sure, believers are sinners. They can fail in many, many different ways, and God saves us by his grace, and He doesn’t require us to reform our lives and to produce good works in order to be saved or to confirm our salvation.
We confirm our salvation by understanding the promise that anyone who accepts the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ is saved. Anyone who believes! 95 times in the gospel of John, John says, believe, believe, believe. He does not say, truly believe, genuinely believe, he says, believe, trust in the gospel—the good news that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sin.
So we have the believer who is the person who trusts in Christ as Savior, and he can only grow after he once trusts Christ as Savior and takes in the Word of God. Just as a plant can germinate, if you don’t water it, and you don’t nourish it with fertilizer and the right nutrients, it’s not going to grow.
We see this in Texas a lot—people start off, they plant a few things, they don’t water their garden—that’s not the case this year—they don’t water their garden, then that plant will wither up and die. But there was life there. There was regeneration—that’s the application—there was regeneration, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” It does not say, believe and do good, believe and confirm the reality of your faith, none of those things.
The three soils that are receptive to the gospel and produced different results all represent believers. It’s not until the second parable that you have an introduction of the counterfeit. This is the moral person that looks like they might be a Christian, but they have never trusted in Christ as Savior. They look like Christians—that’s a false profession.
A false profession is not someone who says, I believe in Jesus, but then their life doesn’t produce the kind of results that you think it should. The false professor is a person who says, “I’m a Christian.” See there’s a difference between saying, “I’m a Christian,” and “I believe in Jesus Christ.”
The statement that is significant and in the Scripture for eternal salvation is, “I believe in Jesus Christ.” Now a person who says, “I believe in Jesus Christ” is a Christian, but the person that says, “I’m a Christian” may or may not have ever trusted in Christ as Savior.
I’ve seen this many times in my life and career as a pastor. I remember one young man when I was a counselor at Camp Peniel back when I was in college. This kid had grown up in an older Bible church here in Houston, Almeda Bible Church. His family was very involved. He and his brother and family had been involved with Camp Peniel, and everybody thought this kid was saved.
He came to me one night during a high school camp and he said, “You know, for the first time I realize that I need to believe Jesus died on the cross for my sins—that I can’t just ride along on the coat tails on the fact that my parents are Christians and my brother’s a Christian, but I need to believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for MY sins”. It is personal. It is not just some sort of historic fact, but it is a person’s trust in Jesus. And he said, “I just did that tonight for the first time.”
That was great! Everybody knew this kid. He was a high school worker at camp during the summer, and we were all a little bit stunned by that, but you never know. Some people are like that. One day, just like the light goes on.
Six months later, he was killed in an automobile accident. But we all knew that he was a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ because he had believed. Not because he said, “I’m a Christian.” But he said, “I believe Christ died on the cross for my sins.”
That’s the distinction. So these tares are counterfeit. They look like they hang around in churches, they’re moral, they’re good people, but they are not believers. The picture here is the enemy has sown these tares.
The way this works in agriculture is that this darnel grows in with the wheat, and the roots are intertwined with the roots of the wheat, and they grow up together, so you can’t just go in and weed them out without destroying your wheat crop.
The land owner, the seed sower, learns that tares have been sown by the enemy. He tells them well, don’t pull them up. The enemy that sowed them, verse 39, is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels.
What’s going to happen is there is going to be this harvest at the end of the age. Only then can we separate the tares from the wheat, and so He says in verse 40, “Therefore, as the tares are gathered—that’s the unbelievers—gathered and burned in the fire.” This relates to their judgment. Agriculturally the tares would have just been burned in the fire, He’s going to point out that that burning in the fire is related to eternal judgment.
He said, “So this will be at the end of the age.” This is talking about just generally about the end results. He’s not talking about one specific judgment because we know that unbelievers are not resurrected according to Revelation 20 until the end of the Millennial Kingdom. He’s talking about that, but there are other times, there are other judgments that will be applied prior to that, so this is just a general description of future judgment and those who are unbelievers will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire.
Verse 41, He says, “The Son of Man [this is what happens at the end of the age] will send out his angels. They will gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Now there are some people who try to make this mean something other than the eternal Lake of Fire, but that’s what it means when we look at it. As we come to this a little later on in our study of Matthew, I will study this concept a little more fully, but this is clearly a reference to eternal condemnation to those who have rejected Jesus as Messiah.
In verse 43, He says, “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” The point is if you’re interested in truth, then respond to the truth—that if you’re listening to the truth, then you need to believe in the truth. You need to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the eternal Son of God, and that He died on the Cross for your sins.
We’ve looked at what these elements represent: The sower is the Son of Man, the [good] seed is the message, the product of [the good seed] is believers, the field is the world, the enemy is the devil.
There is a harvest at the end of the age—this will be brought up again in the parable of the dragnet down in Matthew 13:47–50, and we’ll see that; and the reapers are the angels who will gather up and separate unbelievers from believers.
So then we come to our next parable, which is the third parable which is the parable of the mustard seed. We read another parable He put forth to them saying the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. This is back in verse 31, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds. But when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”
The parable of the mustard seed is an important parable, for it teaches a couple of things about the growth of the kingdom message. That’s the point. This seed is a different seed. It’s not a wheat seed. It’s a mustard seed, and the emphasis on the mustard seed is on its smallness. It is something extremely tiny. It’s the smallest of all seeds. It is easy to miss, and it seems inconsequential. But what happens when the mustard seed is planted is out of that seed grows a very large tree.
He’s going to make an analogy based on this—that the smallness of the seed describes the almost inconsequential, insignificant beginning of the proclamation of the kingdom message during the intervening age. There is this message. It starts off with 11 disciples and expands throughout the entire world and begins to have an impact on the world.
The second thing that’s indicated here is the prosperity, the blessing that comes by association with those who have responded to the message of the kingdom.
There are some you may read that talk about the birds here, where it says that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches. They say, “See birds are unclean in the Old Testament.” Well that’s not true. Some birds are unclean in the Old Testament. Those that are carrion eaters: ravens, buzzards, vultures—these are unclean. But doves are not unclean. Doves were used for sacrifices. So the text doesn’t distinguish between clean and unclean. It just says, “the birds come and nest in the tree.”
This image is used in Daniel 4:12 and Daniel 4:21, which talks about the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar, and how the other nations that come are represented as birds that nest in the tree. They are blessed by association with the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar. That is the idea here that is being presented—the positive impact and growth of the message and how those who respond to it and those who are associated with those who respond to it are blessed by association. This is true in the history of this intervening period.
Christianity has grown. It has expanded. It has brought unparalleled prosperity to the world. If you look at a map, you will see that only the countries that have been impacted by the Christian gospel have any measure of freedom and prosperity. You can further subdivide those between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy: that in Roman Catholic countries, there was a higher degree of freedom. Then you can further divide those that came out of Roman Catholicism and the Protestant Reformation had an even higher degree of freedom and prosperity. The English-speaking countries were the countries that had the greatest response to the gospel, and it is through those countries that prosperity has come to the whole world.
If you look at history in the British Empire as they expanded in the 17th–20th centuries around the world, they brought tremendous prosperity; and with their expansionism and colonialism, they brought the gospel. India would still be burning the wives of dead husbands with them if it weren’t for the British. There would be horrible abuse still going on in Asian countries that did not have the impact of the gospel. Freedom, the concept of free markets, all comes from the impact of Christianity in the West. These are just some examples of how the world has prospered and been blessed because of the impact of Christianity in the West.
But at the same time, we see a lesson from the next parable in verse 33. This is the negative. There will be a growth of the message and many blessed by association, but at the same time there’s going to be a growth of apostasy that will inevitably destroy the impact of the message of the kingdom.
Verse 33, “Another parable He spoke to them: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measure of meal till it was all leavened.’ ”
Second only to the first parable is this one in terms of its multiple interpretations, even among dispensationalists. You’ll find that some will say that in this passage leaven is just being used to picture how Christianity will permeate the world and have a tremendous response. However, I think that that is a significant problem because leaven always indicates, and is a symbol of, evil in the rest of Scripture.
As Jesus tells this, He talks about a woman who took and hid three measures of meal. Three measures of meal was the amount that you would take in order to bake a loaf of bread. So this is an everyday type of occurrence; but He uses an interesting word there when He says, “The woman took and hid in the three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
The word for hid is the word ENKRUPTO, which is where we get our English word encrypt, based on the word KRUPTO, which means secret, and you have cryptologists who try to decipher codes and also work in developing codes. It is a word that also applies to someone who is up to something nefarious—they are trying to hide something. This is a word in the Greek that would have negative connotation, not a positive connotation. This is the introduction of leaven that will eventually spread and influence everything, and this is a picture of apostasy.
Numerous times in the Scriptures leaven is used to represent sin and evil: Exodus 12:15–20, 34:5; Leviticus 2:11; Matthew 16:6, 11–12; 1 Cor. 5:6–8; and Gal 5:9. Leaven, therefore, pictures something that will happen toward the end of the age in the apostasy in the world.
This is foretold in 1 Timothy 4; 2 Timothy 3; Jude—the whole book of Jude warns of future apostasy; 2 Peter 3; Revelation 6–19—which is the Tribulation.
We see this apostasy goes into the end of the age. It’s not just Church Age. This is talking about the period that goes all the way up to the Second Coming of Christ and the establishment of the kingdom. You see the greatest degree of apostasy in the world coming during the Tribulation period.
Then we have two parables that must be understood together, they’re short, and they’re succinct, so I will cover them briefly as we prepare to close.
“Again the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
First of all we have a treasure hidden in a field. What’s the treasure? Second, the man finds it. Third, he hides; and fourth, he goes and sells all that he has to buy the field. What’s going on here?
Well, in the Old Testament, we have a passage in Ex. 19:5 where God says, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.”
The treasure hidden in the field is Israel. This parable looks at the kingdom, what happens from the standpoint of Israel. That hiding of the treasure in the field is a reference to the fact that due to apostasy, the gospel and God’s grace was hidden in Israel and by Israel during much of the Old Testament period. This is why they were taken out under discipline is 722 and 586 BC because of idolatry. They weren’t fulfilling the mission that God gave them in Torah to be a light to the world, and to teach the world about God and His grace. Tthe hidden state refers to those dark times of Israel’s apostasy.
Then the treasure is found and uncovered. This is the coming-near of the kingdom during the life of Christ, when He’s offering the kingdom. Then remember, he finds it; and then takes it and hides it. This is what happens with the rejection of Israel. The kingdom is not going to come to Israel. And then he sells all that he has and buys the field. Whenever we see this depiction of purchasing, that usually reflects redemption, the payment of the sin penalty. This is emphasizing that yes indeed Jesus as Messiah has paid the sin penalty even for Israel that rejected Him in apostasy.
So Matthew 13:44 talks about the kingdom from the perspective of Israel. Matthew 13:45 talks about the kingdom from the perspective of the Gentiles.
Matt. 13:45, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls,
Matt. 13:36, “who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Where do pearls come from? How many times in the Bible does it talk about pearls? Hardly at all. Why? Where do pearls come from? A pearl comes from an oyster. Where’s the oyster come from? Oysters come from the salt sea. The salt sea is usually negative and usually represents the Gentiles. An oyster was an unclean animal under the Levitical system. That’s why we don’t have pearls as one of the precious stones in the decoration of the temple, the tabernacle, or the high priest plate at all.
This is talking about the Gentiles. They’re unclean, but there is a pearl, and this pearl represents those who will be saved among the Gentiles. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who goes and sells all that he has and buys it. Again, redemption—the purchase price of sin for the Gentiles. This was what Jesus announced in Matt 12—that he would take the gospel to the Gentiles.
Then we come to the seventh parable, the parable of the dragnet.
Matt. 13:46, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind,
Matt. 13:48, “which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away.”
In other words, before the kingdom comes, there must be judgment. This was alluded to also back with the parable of the tares. There will be this judgment. Here it’s pictured by the separation of the fish. Those that are clean are kept. Those that are unclean are thrown away.
Jesus said in Matt. 13:49, “So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just,
Matt 13:50 “and cast them into the furnace of fire”—eternal condemnation. There are fiery torments even in Sheol, and then eventually into the Lake of Fire.
So this simple statement of being cast into the furnace of fire is just a general illusion to fiery punishment, and we know that that comes into stages from other passages.
“They will be cast into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
Then we come to the last statement where Jesus says to the disciples in this brief interlude, Matt. 13:51 “Have you understood all these things?” And they say, “Yes, we got the message.”
Whether they did or not we’re not actually sure, but they understand the message. The kingdom is being postponed. There’s going to be new characteristics in the intervening period.
So then He compares them to scribes in Matt. 13:52, “Therefore every scribe instructed…” Actually the way the text reads “every scribe who becomes a disciple.”
What He is saying is “the old order of scribes under Israel has rejected Me, and they’re out, and we’re replacing them with new scribes.” This is also an illusion to the fact that some of those eleven will be used to write Scripture that will become part of the New Testament.
Matt. 13:52, “Therefore, every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of this treasure things new and things old.”
In other words, the disciple of the kingdom is going to teach from things old—that is those principles that endure from the Old Testament—as well as that which is new revelation related to the new age. So they’re going to be teaching the old, which is well established, as well as adding new revelation to it.
All these parables relate to the characteristics of the intervening period, which include both believers and unbelievers; and of course, that a believer is anyone who trusts in Christ as Savior, not based on works, not based on good deeds, or anything that we’ve done, but simply trusting in Jesus as the One who paid the penalty for our sins that we might have eternal life.
With our heads bowed and our eyes closed:
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to study these things and be reminded that human history reflects Your plan. You have a plan and a purpose, and that no matter how chaotic things might appear to us down here on the planet, there is an order that you are bringing about Your purpose which has much to do with redemption of mankind and the ultimate redemption of Israel, and the fulfillment of all the promises that You made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and the Jewish people through all of the Old Testament covenants. They will come to fruition just as You have promised. That the kingdom has been postponed, but it will be realized, and that there will be a future for Israel, as well as a future for the Church in the kingdom.
Father we pray that if there’s anyone here this morning who is unsure of their salvation or uncertain of their eternal destiny, that they will take this opportunity to make sure that that is certain—it occurs simply by trusting in Christ as Savior.
Right where you sit, if you believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins, paid that penalty, then you have eternal life, you have forgiveness of sin. No matter what you’ve done, it was paid for by Christ on the cross and He offers you eternal life simply by trusting in Him and Him alone.
Father, we pray that you would challenge each of us with what we have learned today: that we are to go forth and that we are to be disciples and to make disciples—and teaching both old things as well as new things, and we pray this is Christ’s Name. Amen.”