Jesus describes the Kingdom of God…
So it seems only fair that Jesus would include in his teaching references to the very kingdom He was prepared to establish for the sake of Israel. So as the offer comes to a close for Israel, Jesus begins to offer commentary on the nature of the thing He was offering -‐ on the kingdom itself.
Luke 13:18-21 **
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
18 Then He said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”
The Parable of the Leaven
20 And again He said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
**All scripture is from the New King James Version unless other wise noted
Jesus begins with a rhetorical question. He asks what is the kingdom like? More specifically, He says what is the kingdom of God like? To what should we compare God’s kingdom? Before we look at the comparison let’s make sure we understand what He means when He refers to this specific Kingdom. What aspect of His kingdom is He referring to in these two parables?
Well, there is a wealth of scripture available in the Bible, we can go front to back. Especially in the Old Testament Which gives us understanding of what God means by His kingdom. The Old Testament had promised to the nation of Israel a Messiah who would rule over them during a time of peace and He would usher in a kingdom of righteousness. Over which He will rule. In fact, virtually all we know about the nature of this kingdom to include those facts and many others, all come out of the Old Testament. The only notable fact about the kingdom itself that’s added in the New Testament is a duration of one stage of the kingdom – one stage of the kingdom will last 1,000 years here on earth (Rev 20:4). That fact really alone is new to us out of the New Testament. Anything else the New Testament has to say about the kingdom can be found earlier in the Old Testament. So, if you were a Jew and you knew your Old Testament then what you knew about the kingdom was fairly complete. You had a fairly good understanding of the nature of God’s Kingdom. Let’s read Revelation 20 verse 4 where we get that one additional piece about the kingdom.
The Saints Reign with ChRIST 1,000 Years
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
There is some point in time in the future where Christ is physically present on Earth. Those who are the saints, those who are described in that verse are those who are with Him, reigning with Him for a thousand years on Earth. We know that has to be in the future, it hasn’t happened yet. And we know that is considered a part of God’s Kingdom. But we also know that can’t be all that is meant by the Kingdom of God. But in fact, the 1,000 years is not the entirety of God’s kingdom, but rather it’s a demarcation between two stages of the kingdom. How do we know that, for example Luke Chapter 1, verse 31 says:
31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Seventh Trumpet: The Kingdom Proclaimed
15 Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!”
We could spend days talking about the kingdom and it’s nature as described in scripture, but the essential points are these:
- First, the term kingdom can mean slightly different things in scripture at
different times, so we use context to understand which aspect or which
period of God’s kingdom is in view.
- Right now we can say God sits on His throne. Scripture tells us that. He sits now on His throne. His kingdom exists in that form every day.
- There are also verses that would equate the kingdom to the church itself. So that is another form of the kingdom in the sense of the church and it’s existence in the world.
The word kingdom or the thought Kingdom of God is a complex thought that is not just one of those things, it is all of those things. So that begs the question, which of those things is in view, in Luke’s verses here. All of them, some of them, one of them? We seemed to need to know that before we can fully understand what Jesus is trying to teach us about God’s Kingdom. It is going to be by reference or context to know what He is speaking about. Let’s to go to Matthew 13 for a short time to examine a great series of verses that are comparable to the ones earlier from Luke. Not a perfect comparison, there are some differences you would imagine. There are some important things out of Matthew that will help us better understand what we are seeing in Luke. In these verses, we get a chance to see the term kingdom of God used in a variety of ways to help illustrate what we are learning here.
The PARABLE of the Wheat and the Tares
24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
After Jesus gives this description of the kingdom, He interprets the parable in later verses for His Disciples.
37 He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.38 The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. 39 The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. 40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
If you notice, the word kingdom came up a couple of times. And it was clear from the context it was talking about different things. Here Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God (heaven) is comparable to the way Jesus plants seeds in the world (i.e,. He brings men and women to the faith) in the way He brings up believers in the church, in the body of Christ. And even as Christ is busy affecting that change in the world, day by day, one believer at a time. Even as He is doing that; what is the enemy doing around Him? The enemy is cultivating the unbeliever. That doesn’t mean the enemy plants an unbeliever, we are all born unbelievers. But it means that those unbelievers are being cultivated and nurtured and directed and being used by the enemy. Even among those who are being made believers by the power of the Holy Spirit and brought into the family of God and made the sons and daughters of righteousness. This is a comparison to the Kingdom of God.
What do we draw from that comparison? What do we learn about God’s kingdom in this description? Before we go to that conclusion, note one more important detail. In the last days when Christ returns we are told, the wicked are gathered from the four corners of the earth and removed from the earth as Jesus ushers in His 1,000 year reign on Earth. Now we have another important detail about that thousand year reign. About that time when Christ rules on Earth. As He begins to set up that kingdom and that 1,000 years begin, immediately before that moment or in connection with that moment there will be a world with believers and unbelievers on it. And in that moment it is not the believers who leave, it is the unbelievers. Because you want to stay behind when Christ is coming to the Earth. You don’t want to leave if He is coming back. We’re not talking about the rapture here. The rapture has already taken place at an earlier date. That preceded a time we called tribulation. Which then ensued and during that time new believers were being made. Revelation teaches us that.
And at the very end of the age (tribulation) you have a world with believers again, new ones. New ones who have come to believe since the rapture. And you have the unbelievers who have been there all the long. And when Christ returns we know He destroys those who rise up against the Nation of Israel. And He also cleanses the world of all unbelievers in that moment. Out of Matthew chapter 24, we hear about two will be in the field and one will be left, two will be working at the mill and one will be left. That is not a picture of the rapture, though it is often taught that way. That’s the picture of this moment, and the ones who leave are the ones who are bad. And you will know that if you go back and read Matthew chapter 24 and look at those specific verses and look at what is being taught right around them. Before and after – it is the second coming of Christ not the rapture. This a further affirmation of that fact. This is where the unbelievers are removed so the kingdom may begin with only believers on the Earth. The meaning of the Kingdom of God is not God’s Throne-room. The meaning of God’s Kingdom here in this parable out of Matthew is not the thousand year reign. That’s the thing He ends with. What is He talking about? What is the kingdom in this parable? It is the world today. The process that began with His first coming and continues even today as new believers are brought up in the world, in this field as Jesus describes it, even among the tares. Even among the unbelieving world around us. So here we know the phrase, Kingdom of God is referring to the Church or the period of time on Earth, until the end of the age as He puts in verse 40 in Matthew chapter 13. This church age we now experience. Until this church age is compete we have this field full of wheat and tares mixed together waiting for the appointed day when Jesus will sort them out. At the end of tribulation. So let’s note what we’ve learned here.
- The kingdom is not merely the point of Christ’s return.
- It actually begins at Christ’s first coming as the citizens of his kingdom are planted like seeds, one by one.
Now look at verses 31 & 32 in Matthew chapter 13. Here we see the same parable we just read in Luke.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
31 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, 32 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 that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”
The Parable of the Leaven
33 Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
- We see in Matthew, it comes right after Jesus declares that the kingdom of God begins with the making of the first believers (sowing the good seed – parable of the mustard seed)
- Then we hear that one characteristic of the kingdom is that it will start very small
- But despite all expectations and against all odds, it will grow remarkably big
- In fact, it will grow to the point where birds will nest in the tree
- Or said literally, to the point where strangers will find a home in the kingdom
- Those strangers, of course, are the gentile nations – you and I
This is the same comparable parable we found in Luke. Look where this parable about the mustard seed is sandwiched in Matthew. It is sandwiched between telling of the parable regarding the field (The parable about the wheat and tares) and then the explanation of that parable regarding the field . If you look a little further in verse 33 you see He says the kingdom is like leaven. This comparable to the one about leaven we read in Luke as well. In that series of verses therefore, the phrase God’s Kingdom is being used in a consistent pattern from front to back. If it was possible for us to be confused for what Jesus means by the Kingdom of God when He talked about the leaven or when He talked about the mustard seed in Luke all we have to do is come to Matthew to these verses in chapter 13 and look at the broader context (The parable about the wheat and tares) and we get our answer to what He means by how He is using the word kingdom here. It is the same as what He meant earlier when He talked about the wheat and the tares. It is the Earth and the church while it is on the earth. He’s talking about the same kingdom He was talking about in the field. So how is the kingdom we experience on earth like a mustard seed? What is the specific point of His telling this parable? One specific point is that the kingdom is going to start very small. How did the kingdom on earth start? It started with Christ Himself. In a very humble role, being rejected by His own people, and put to death like a common criminal on a cross. You cannot get much smaller than that if you your point is to begin a worldwide movement. It starts small, inconspicuous and more than just the fact it is small, its growth defies all expectations. What started as one guy, who to the world looked like a nobody, who was put to death miserably at an early age. Was really the beginning of something great and eventually as the parable goes on has the strength to allow birds to nest in its branches. Which some have interpreted it to mean the enemy because birds are sometimes a picture of the enemy or of the devil. The enemy has some infiltration in the church but in fact that is not the meaning of this parable or of that reference. It’s rather a reference to strangers will find a home in this entity. And of course to a Jew, who is the stranger? They are the Gentiles, the world. These birds are a picture of the Gentile nations finding a home in something that to the Jew was really supposed to all about the Jews to begin with. A Jewish Messiah coming to a Jewish nation. A church that began in Jerusalem with Jewish followers, but eventually that church grows big enough that one day the world itself will nest in it.
In fact, if you want further confirmation that the birds represent the gentile nations, you only have to look at Daniel, chapter 4. In Dan 4 you see Nebuchadnezzar experience a dream where a tree fills the earth, and ultimately with birds nesting in it and beast resting in its shade. And Daniel tells the king that the tree represents Babylon in its entirety. It is a kingdom that encompasses the whole Earth. And therefore the animals that inhabit that tree are the various nations of the world that make up the kingdom and come under Babylon’s control. It’s a great parallel to help us understand the picture in the parable that Jesus is teaching.
The point of the mustard seed parable, therefore, is to illustrate that it will be a remarkable, unexpected sight to watch the kingdom grow from such meager, humble beginnings to such a dramatic final state. So what is He teaching to the Nation of Israel?And that point is reiterated in the parable in Matthew 13 verse 33 (leaven). A small amount of yeast in bread changes the nature of the whole bread, makes it balloon and grow.
But think about it now if you were a Jew. What were you taught out of the Old Testament as to what you should expect from your coming kingdom? Were you taught it would start small and eventually grow to encompass the whole world? Not at all! You were taught it was going to come in a moment, destroy and vanquish all of Israel’s enemies, set up God’s Kingdom in a moment and God ruling on His throne over the nations of the world. Israel would be the chief of the nations in a moment. We know that is yet to be fulfilled because that is a depiction of Christ second coming. What they didn’t understand was that the rejection of the Messiah would lead to this interim period where a kingdom, in a much different form, an unexpected form would take hold slowly, bit by bit, individual by individual because after all, it is a kingdom made up of individuals. And as those individuals spread and grow their influence, the world would grow as well. Not to the point as some might teach where every single human being on Earth suddenly becomes a Christian and on that day Christ returns. There is a form of teaching that echos that belief. They take this parable to far. They think it means essentially Christ’s return depends on the last unbeliever becoming a believer and on that day He comes back. It’s with a good heart. It tends to encourage evangelism which is something we could never argue with. But it is a misinterpretation of the scripture. The fact is, as Jesus pointed out in Matthew, when He returns there is tares left to be dealt with. That is the teaching of scripture. So now you see the counter-intuitive nature of this first part of Christ’s teaching on the kingdom. It reversed or tried to reverse the Jewish expectation of the kingdom. What He is doing is pointing out why they (the Nation of Israel) are unwilling to receive Him. They wanted to see might. They wanted to see a Messiah show up and vanquish the Romans. They wanted to see a Messiah show up and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem. And until He did that they were not willing to accept Him. In other words they didn’t have faith, they wanted to judge on the basis of sight. Prove to me who you are and then I am willing to follow you. Christ said it didn’t work that way.
So now we understand how the term Kingdom of God is being used in these verses as well as our in original verses from Luke. When Jesus teaches on the Kingdom in these verses, He is referring to the growth of the Church. In fact His reference to the birds nesting in the tree is a reference to the way the kingdom (i.e, the Church) will ultimately draw in people from all the nations (not just Jews). And it’s growth will be complete only when Christ returns and removes the remaining unbelievers from the world and sets up his kingdom on earth. Among many places we can go in the Bible, Jeremiah gives us the picture of that kingdom on earth. Listen to what the Jews had been taught in Jeremiah 23. It will give you a richer appreciation for why they struggled with the notion of what Jesus presented.
2 Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: “You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,” says the Lord. 3 “But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. 4 I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,” says the Lord.
5 “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord,
“That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness;
A King shall reign and prosper,
And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.
6 In His days Judah will be saved,
And Israel will dwell safely;
Now this is His name by which He will be called:
THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
So although the phrase “kingdom of God” can mean several different things, in these verses in Luke it specifically refers to the period of time when Christ is building His church one believer at a time. And it is being used by Jesus to dispel a myth in the minds of the Jewish crowd present around Him. As mentioned earlier that Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom was counter-intuitive to the crowd. It was nonsensical or at least paradoxical. It defied their conventional teaching and here you can see one example of how that’s true. While the Jews had been taught that the kingdom of God
would come suddenly, all at once, in a moment and it would only come for the Jews.
Jesus just taught that it would start modestly, almost imperceptibly and it would grow to include representatives from all the nations of the world.
In fact, once Jesus returns, the kingdom on earth will be established with 100% believers. Because all unbelievers we are told will have been removed from the earth at Christ’s appearing (second coming). So the people have prepared to reject Jesus as their Messiah because the kind of Kingdom He was in the process of establishing looked nothing like the kind of kingdom they were expecting.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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