Unveiled - The History of The Kingdom of Heaven - Part 1
John Griffiths, Port Talbot, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Matthew chapter 13 rates alongside Leviticus chapter 23 and Revelation chapters 2 and 3 as a passage that unfolds future events before they happen. The Feasts, a calendar of Israel’s agricultural year, foreshadow events from the Passover to Tabernacles, the cross to the kingdom on earth. The letters to the seven churches, in present-day western Turkey, outline the history of the church era from apostolic times until the rapture. Matthew chapter 13 foretells the history of the kingdom of heaven from the disciples’ initial preaching of the gospel of the kingdom to the return of Christ to earth described as ‘the end of the world’ – the inter-advent period.
Matthew’s Gospel is characterized by discourses. Chapter 13 is the third he records.
Chapters 5 to 7 - The Principles Governing the Kingdom
Chapter 10 - The Preachers of the Gospel of the Kingdom
Chapter 13 - The Parables of the Growth of the Kingdom
The Context of the chapter
The chapters, Matthew 1 to 13, might be outlined as follows:
Chapters 1 to 9 - The Credentials of the King
Chapter 10 - The Commission of the King
Chapters 11 to 13 - The Conspiracy against the King
In chapter 11 we have the Rejection of the King
‘This generation’ criticizes both John the Baptist and Jesus. Cities exalted to heaven, as to their privilege, will be brought down to hell, as to their punishment, because they ‘repented not’. The ‘wise and prudent’ are not responsive to Messiah’s claims. The national apostasy sweeping Israel results in their rejection of the moral and spiritual claims of Christ. He turns to individuals with the invitation, ‘Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden’, v. 28.
In chapter 12 we have the Rebellion against the King
Again criticism is levelled at both the disciples and the Lord. The point at issue is the use of the Sabbath day. The legalistic Pharisees call a council meeting to discuss ridding the world of Jesus. He stands accused of casting out demons by the power of Satan rather than the power of the Spirit. This is the unpardonable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
‘This generation’ is replaced with stronger denunciation by our Lord, ‘O generation of vipers’, ‘an evil and adulterous generation’ and, ‘this wicked generation’, vv. 34, 39, 45. Our Lord proceeds to refute natural relationships in favour of spiritual family relationships. The kingdom of which He is about to speak consists of those who ‘shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven’, v. 50.
In chapter 13 we have the Revelation of the King
The establishment of the millennial kingdom on earth is deferred. Postponement is due to the King being rejected by Jew and Roman. Israel will be set aside from the mainstream of God’s purpose and the Gentiles will be in line for blessing as the primary subjects of an interim kingdom, Acts 15. 14. The King has gone on a long journey and is Himself absent. The kingdom itself has no geographical boundaries.
Here on earth (for the parables are all earth related) there will be a kingdom not openly manifest but in mystery. Its subjects on earth will own allegiance to their King in heaven.
The Construction of the chapter
The first four parables are told in public, the last four in private. The first and eighth parable lay no claim to being part of the kingdom of heaven series. The second, third and fourth parables are linked because they are introduced by the threefold repetition of ‘another’. The fifth, sixth and seventh parables are linked because they are introduced by the threefold repetition of ‘again’. The symmetry of these parables is 1-3-3-1.
An analysis of this chapter is as follows:
The Parable of the Commencement of the Kingdom,
vv. 1-9, 18-23;
The Parables of the Contamination of the Kingdom,
The Parables of the Composition of the Kingdom,
The Parable of the Constraint of the Kingdom,
The Characteristics of the chapter
1 Why use parables?
Verse 3, ‘he spake many things unto them in parables’; verse 34, ‘without a parable spake he not unto them’; verse 53, ‘when Jesus had finished these parables’.
The disciples were prompted to ask, ‘Why speakest thou unto them in parables?’ v. 10. The Lord’s reply is given in verses 11 to 17 and verses 34 and 35.
The parables were based on daily occurrences prompted by nature, agriculture etc., and used to illustrate spiritual truths. The general intention was to illustrate and enlighten. In this chapter the parables were deliberately used to leave the unbelieving multitude in the dark while enlightening the disciples. The word ‘parable’ means ‘to put alongside’ with a view to making a difficult concept clear.
The Lord justifies His use of parables in this way by quoting from two Old Testament passages. The first is found in Isaiah chapter 6 verses 9 and 10. There the persistent disobedience of the nation in response to Jehovah’s overtures through the prophets resulted in judicial blindness to Israel. As in the case of Pharaoh who hardened his heart until the point where God stepped in and enforced the process, so the Lord sovereignly enforces the condition the nation has chosen in Christ’s day. The multitudes might listen to the parables but they could not fathom their significance. Even the disciples requested an interpretation from the Lord.
The second quotation in verse 35 is taken from Psalm 78 verse 2. The psalmist paints a picture of a rebellious people who constantly offend and anger the Lord during their wilderness wanderings and in the promised land.
To those of believing heart and enquiring mind the Lord was about to unlock truth which had been kept secret hitherto. The unveiling of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven was about to proceed for the benefit of the disciples then and now.
2 Why use the term, ‘kingdom of heaven’?
The ‘kingdom of God’ expresses the idea of the divine Person who is sovereign over the realm; God himself. The ‘kingdom of heaven’ tells of the seat of that Sovereign and the sphere out of which He exercises His rule, namely heaven.
God had to teach the Gentile monarch, Nebuchadnezzar, a salutary lesson. The man was puffed up with pride and had to be reduced to eating grass like any four-footed creature before he gave due recognition to God. Daniel writes, ‘that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule’, 4. 26. Harry Bell opines that God’s rule on earth, no longer administered through Israel or Judah, has been removed to heaven.
The argument as to whether the ‘kingdom of God’ and the ‘kingdom of heaven’ are synonymous or not must be resolved elsewhere! The use of the term is exclusive to Matthew’s Gospel occurring thirty-two times. He only uses ‘kingdom of God’ four times. Other kingdom of heaven parables found in Matthew appear as follows: 18. 23; 20. 1; 22. 2; 25. 1 and 14.
The kingdom of heaven incorporates religious profession as well as genuine children of the kingdom. This will become obvious when parables 2, 3 and 4 are considered.
For the duration of the period when the kingdom and the church run parallel to one another, this sphere of profession is Christendom. However, it must never be forgotten that the church and the kingdom are distinct entities. They are not co-extensive.
AUTHOR PROFILE: John is an elder in the assembly at Port Talbot, Wales. He ministers the word of God throughout the UK. This is his first article for Precious Seed International. He is a retired headteacher.