THE MYSTERIES OF THE
Allen J. Bartlett
Copyright October 1991
89115 Condon Creek Road
Florence, Oregon 97439
The Parables of Matthew, Chapter 13
The Parables of Matthew 13 (cont'd)
What is the Kingdom of Heaven'
Populating the Kingdom
Parable of the Mustard Seed
Parables of the Treasure and the Pearl
Parable of the Drag Net
THE MYSTERIES OF THE KINGDOM
An Exposition of Matthew 13
by Allen J. Bartlett
The major difficulty in conveying divine truth in our day is the lack of definition of biblical terms involved. Living nearly two thousand years down the road from the time the New Testament was written, can present problems of monumental consequences if attention is not given to the biblical meaning of biblical terms.
The apostle Paul labored to use language that conveyed meaning to his hearers or readers and resorted to very colloquial terms to gain that end. But somehow along the way, our translators seem to have labored to obscure biblical terms by inventing words that are not in common use or do not have well known definitions, words such as "church," "gospel," "saints," "angel" or "kingdom," to name a few. These words in the original language are full of vibrant meaning but their translations land with a dull "thud" on our ears.
The wonderful word "ecclesia" invariably translated "church" in most of our versions was a common term for an assembly convened for a purpose, the word meaning "called out." The Lord Jesus took this common term and elevated it to an unequaled position when He said "Upon this rock will I build my assembly," a vast group of people whom He later refers to as "his body," composed of all of His elect people of all ages, also called His "chosen ones" (8 times), His "Elect," or "Election" (22 times), "saints" (61) times, and only three times are they called "Christians," the most common term today. The most colloquial meaning and use of the word "church" in our day is for a structure ranging from modest dimensions to great cathedrals decked and adorned with ornate sculpture and artistry, and people are no longer "the church" but rather "go to church." And so the 115 times the word is used in the New Testament to describe His redeemed people, no longer conveys to us God's intended meaning.
The word "angel" must be thought of primarily as describing a "sent one" or "messenger," and whether divine, spirit, or human, must be determined by the context. Abraham received heavenly messengers in human form. The Lord Jesus, before His incarnation, appeared in the 0. T. as the "messenger of the covenant" and as the "angel of the Lord." John the Baptist is referred to as "My messenger" ("angel" in the original) in Matthew 11:10. I shall retain the use of _ the word "angel" as it is always used in Matthew 13 in reference to His "ministering" spirits who do the bidding of our Lord Jesus.
The word "gospel" in the Greek is of the same root as the word "angel," the one being the messenger "anggelos," and the other the message - euanggel, "evangel"- which, with the prefix, means "the good message." Needless to say, this affinity is lost in our translation. I use the words "good news" or "evangel" -in place of the rather nebulous word "gospel."
Another word that ranks high on the list of meaningless words in our day is the one used in the original more than any other to describe the believers in Christ, the children of God, being used over 60 times in the N.T., the wonderful word "hagloi" translated "saints." This word in our colloquial language usually conjures up a mental image of some formidably appearing gent from the past with a halo strapped -about his head. I believe the Biblical meaning is closely linked with the thought contained in the truth of God's election of men to salvation - those whom He chooses (elects) from the perishing mass of mankind, He has called to be "ones set apart for Himself," "hagioi." Paul exemplifies this tact in Romans 1:7 where he addresses the believers at Rome as the "beloved of God in Rome called saints." He isn't giving them a name but rather describing their position and uses only two words, adjectives which mean "called ones," and thus "set apart ones," clearly and emphatically referring to their Divine adoption and birth.
There is no one English word to adequately translate "hagioi" as a noun but would have to have a modifier as in "ones set apart" or "separated ones."
I consider it more meaningful, then, to define terms whose original meaning has been obscured and seek to make them useful again in conveying God's truth, and will, in general, use the new definitions throughout my exposition.
I also feel that the tremendous importance of this particular discourse by our Lord Jesus is generally not perceived. We are more familiar with His great "Sermon on the Mount" and His "Olivet Discourse" but seldom hear of His "Sermon by the Sea." All three of these composite discourses have in common that He was SEATED. He took the visible position of a King speaking "ex cathedra" - from the THRONE.
In Matthew 5 we see the KING describing prophetically the results of His priestly work of redemption producing subjects in His kingdom who reflect His character - the results of the "travail of His soul" with which He is satisfied. In Matthew 13, we see the KING proclaiming prophetically the results of His Regal work as the Divine Sovereign fulfilling all of the decrees of God concerning all of His creation. In Matthew 24:3 we see the KING proclaiming prophetically the results of His prophetic omniscience in handling the moral judgments of God in dealing with all of His creatures.
So these three great addresses by our Lord and King Jesus were spoken a He
assumed His offices of King Prophet, King Priest and Sovereign King. We see Him sitting on one other occasion in Matthew 15:29 where He fed over four thousand people besides healing vast multitudes. There is no record of Him speaking on this occasion, but this was a grand display of His creative power as King.
Further, the great importance of this discourse is set forth in verses 34 & 35 where He quotes from Psalm 78 as fulfilling it at this time. Psalm 78 is a long psalm describing at length God's dealing with Israel as a nation, and implies that all of Israel's history was really a parable of a greater administration yet to be accomplished by His King when He sits upon His holy hill of Zion. His purpose for using parables He stated in verse 11 "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted." The apostle Paul later appears on the divine scene as the man most enlightened into the mysteries of the Kingdom (Ephesians 3:1-10 where Paul also had Psalm 78 in view).
The final attest to the grandeur of His proclamation is found in the word quoted from Psalm 78 and translated "utter" in verse 35. This is the ONLY appearance of this word in the New Testament and describes an almost uncontrollable expression of one's self. Vincent defines - "The verb, in which the sound corresponds to the sense (ereuxomai), means originally to belch, to disgorge. Homer uses it of the sea surging against the shore, Pindar of the ERUPTION of Mt. Aetna. There seems to lie in the word a FULL, IMPASSIONED utterance, as of a prophet."
The Lord Jesus did not speak with the bombast and violence of the volcano, only with the irrepressible force. So we are inclined to think of these parables as so many successive "volcanic" eruptions. Divine truth that HAD to be spoken at this exact time, by this exact Person and in this exact manner or "the very stones would cry out!" Not even the Sermon on the Mount nor the Olivet Discourse are so introduced.
THE PARABLES OF MATTHEW 13
The New Testament speaks to three distinct entities in the administration of God. The first mentioned is the Kingdom of the Heavens announced by John the Baptist when he cried "repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" Matthew 3:2. The second distinct entity was announced by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 16:18. In alluding to Peter's confession He stated,"upon this (bed)rock I will build MY assembly and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it." This is that spiritual or mystical body of all believers of all time that compose what He also calls His "body" Ephesians 1:23 and "bride" Revelation 21:9. The Lord Jesus alone tends to the building and protection of that mystical body. Peter was given the "keys" to the Kingdom of Heaven but not to the "assembly which is His body." The Lord Jesus retains the keys to His assembly and it is in no way finally dependant upon man for its completion or preservation. "All that the Father gives me shall come to me."
The third distinct entity dealt with in the New Testament is also introduced by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 18:17 when he directs an offended brother to go before the "assembly' with his complaint. This, obviously, cannot be that assembly which is His mystical body composed of believers throughout the whole earth, but rather a local assembly of believers. This form of assembly is often in the plural form as "in all the assemblies of the saints" 1 Corinthians 14:33. The word is used in reference to the local assembly 99 times in both singular and plural forms but only 13 times, always singular, in reference to His mystical body, and only in Ephesians Chapter 5, Colossians Chapter 1 and in Hebrews Chapters 2 and 12.
While these three entities are distinct in their definition and employment, they are inseparably linked together in their relationships. The broad and vast Kingdom of God encompasses all men (The good fish and the bad, the tares and the wheat, the sheep and the goats) but exists to minister savingly to the "good seed," the children of the Kingdom, which are exclusively members of His body which He calls "my assembly." These members of His mystical body seek to gather consistently in geographical localities in visible assemblies and administer or use the "word" of the Kingdom. Only Peter himself alone ever used the "keys" of the Kingdom as that commission was given to him alone and He used them twice - once on the day of Pentecost to open the Kingdom to Israel and later at the house of Cornelius to open the Kingdom to the remaining nations. The focus on Peter's ministry in the book of Acts ceases at that point in favor of the Apostle Paul who labors among the nations from whom a great number of the children of the Kingdom are called.
Matthew is the only writer to refer to it as "the kingdom of the heavens," always plural in the original, indicating that all final government on earth originates in another sphere, that which is above the earth. All other N. T. writers refer to it as the Kingdom of God. Much of Matthew's writing has an eye to the prophecy of Daniel in which book the Kingdom is described as the rule of the Heavens (Daniel 4:26), while Luke and Paul write largely for Gentile readers who do not usually possess the 0. T. background in their thinking. There are some in our day who believe they are two different administrations of God, one to the Jewish nation exclusively in a yet future 1000 year reign of Christ on earth and the other to the nations as pertaining only to the present time which they call "the church age." Anyone wishing to take the time to compare the Lord's teaching must conclude that they are all referring to the same one and only kingdom. The "mysteries" of Matthew 13 give the grand overview of God's immutable government under the administration of the Lord Jesus as reigning King, whose ultimate purpose is to "give eternal life to as many as thou (the Father) has given him" (John 17:2), thus "bringing many sons to glory" (Hebrews 2:10). Matthew 13 presents a complete theology incorporating every doctrine pertaining to our redemption developed later throughout the New Testament.
One other thing to be noted before entering into the exposition of this wonderful chapter is the progressive revelation of the Kingdom throughout the Scripture.
1. The Kingdom projected -According to Matthew 25:34 the Kingdom was prepared for His own "from the foundation of the world."
2. The Kingdom prefigured - The typical and exemplary kingdom confined to Israel under the kings led to the great promise to David in which God said He would raise up One of his descendants "to build a house for My name (not David's) and I will establish the throne of His Kingdom forever." II Samuel 7:13.
3. The Kingdom presented - The entrance of the Prince heralds the Kingdom in its final spiritual form as He declared "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say 'Look, here it is or, 'There it is!' For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst." Luke 17:20,21.
4. The Kingdom perfected - "Then comes the end. When He delivers up the kingdom to God the Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power," I Corinthians 15:24. "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom everything that is offensive, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into a furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear." Matthew 13:41-43.
THE PARABLES OF MATTHEW 13 (cont'd)
We are presented here with seven parables which, as touching particular aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven, pair off into three pairs; the seventh parable, being one of consummation, stands alone for reasons we shall see presently.
The first two parables deal with the population and the propagation of the Kingdom, the second pair with the progress and the primacy of the Kingdom, and the third with the price and preciousness of the Kingdom. The last one deals with the purifying of the Kingdom.
The first parable in each pair presents the Kingdom from the visible, external aspect as from man's point of observation and as it pertains to the assemblies throughout the world. The second of each pair brings before us the Divine, invisible aspect as it pertains to the assembly which is His body. The last parable brings the visible and the invisible aspects of the Kingdom into one and so thus stands alone as one parable uniting the previous dual aspects.
In populating the Kingdom the visible process is in proclaiming or sowing the Word, with various responses of external profession tested by time and trial. This is how man sees the Kingdom, judging all by his senses. The second parable is from God's viewpoint, the invisible aspect, and thus has only two -distinct kinds of inhabitants - the saved (or "children -of the Kingdom") and the lost (or "children of the devil") - these two classes known finally only to God.
In the second set, the progress of the Kingdom is seen outwardly by the figure of the great mustard tree, easily observed by all, growing from a minute seed into a huge tree, harboring even the "birds of the air", thus picturing the great Kingdom of Heaven in whose scope lie all the kingdoms of the earth. Then the invisible aspect of the progress of the Kingdom is shown by the action of leaven. While no one has ever seen leaven working, nevertheless it does its intended work quietly but effectually; here portraying the influence of the Kingdom of Heaven upon all with whom it comes in contact.
The third set emphasizes the price of the Kingdom, the price paid by the "Man" Christ Jesus. In the external sense the world contains the "children of the Kingdom," His assembly - the "treasure" here, - so the "man" sells all that He has and purchases the whole "field"- the world. In the internal or invisible sense, the next parable is specific, of course as the "merchantman" knows exactly what He is looking for - His Elect, His Chosen, and here they appear as an object of great beauty, a choice pearl (a pearl is the beautiful product of the "suffering" of an oyster). And in selling all that He had, He buys only the one pearl, not all on the market.
WHAT IS "The Kingdom of Heaven" as taught here'
While I respect the judgment of the many able men who have taken the time and pains to opine on this question, I have not been satisfied with their many definitions, mainly because they too often require alterations of texts to be consistent.
The view given here by our Lord Jesus of His Kingdom is one that sees it as grand, majestic, sovereign, and eternal. I believe He presents it as beginning with Adam, as in the second parable - "a man sowed good seed in his field," - and ending when the net is full and the angels do their work of sorting the good fish from the bad - the end of the history of man in this present world.
Again, He sees it as Nebuchadnezzar saw it - "ruling over all," even though some of the foul "fowls of the air" (tares) come and rest in its branches for a time. He sees it as inhabited all at the same time by the children of God (His assembly) and the Children of the devil until the end of its present administration when the Son of Man shall send forth His angels and they shall gather out of His Kingdom "all things offensive and them which commit lawlessness." The Kingdom He presents here is under the sovereign hand of God and always has been, God merely working out His eternal purpose in the confines of time, man, and the world.
And so the Kingdom of Heaven is basically that which belongs to God, and is under Heaven's rule, and will one day be fully manifested to all created intelligences as such. Right now it is inhabited partially by aliens, its authority partially usurped by earthly potentates, and its purity polluted by "his enemy," the evil one, the devil. Thus, the Kingdom is more than the visible assemblies, and more than the sphere of profession; in its scope of influence and rule it is inclusive of the whole of mankind of all time until the consummation of history. I believe it is impossible to understand these parables without greatly enlarging our view of God and His Kingdom, as well as His purposes in the earth.
POPULATING THE KINGDOM
Parables of the Sower and of the Wheat and Tares
Matthew 13:3-30, 36-43
Let us look more closely now at the text of each parable. Since there is an infinite difference between merely dwelling in the confines of the Kingdom of Heaven and being a citizen of it, those passing from the class of aliens to citizens are transferred and transformed by the proclamation and application of the "word of the Kingdom."
This aspect should not be too difficult for us who dwell in the United States to see. Because of its vast size it teems with aliens, who enjoy many of the benefits of its bounty, but when the privileges of the nation are experienced - as voting, governing, etc. - then the man's citizenship is all important, he must be as one born in the kingdom. And so the Kingdom of Heaven's citizenship is provided by the "adoption of children" and the "new birth" of some of its former aliens, accomplished by the Word and Spirit of God.
However, in the external administration of the Kingdom by the proclamation of the good news, the response is varied in the hearts of men, as described in the parable of the sower, and this is to be taken into account by the ones who proclaim the Word. That ground prepared by the Spirit of God to receive the Word will ultimately bring forth fruit consistent with the character of the children of the Kingdom, namely righteousness and true holiness. Note in verse 23 the Lord's definition or description of a true Christian - "the man who hears the word and understands it."
Other soil, prepared only by man (his eloquence, thoughts, logic, emotions, vows, ego, pride, desires, etc.) proves shallow and fruitless in the end. In short, the word with its persecutions and trials, the flesh with its allurements of riches and success, the devil with his lies, all effectually oppose the growth of the seed of truth in all who hear the Word except those in whom the Spirit of God has "overcome the world," "mortified the flesh," and "cast out" Satan. Thus the
King makes final choice of His subjects by giving His Spirit to "whomsoever He will" Matthew 11:27.
The second parable and its interpretation by the Lord Jesus gives us very much a key to the whole group. When the Lord Jesus says "the Kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man ....," we must understand that the whole parable portrays the aspect of the kingdom under consideration, and not just the first phrase. One should mentally put parenthesis around the whole parable like an algebraic equation so the whole must be perused and resolved to satisfy the equation or, in this case, the definition.
This second parable is of tremendous scope, having to do with all of mankind from Adam to the last person born on the earth, and involves the disposition -of all souls in this life and finally in the judgment. While it thus deals with the population of the Kingdom, it does so in view of God's sovereignty; there is nothing indefinite in this parable as there was in the first one. One is either a good seed or a tare from the beginning, and thus the parable is absolutely unexplainable without recognizing the truth of God's predestination in election and reprobation. It defies all other explanation.
Notice first in verse 24 - "a man sowed good seed in his field." In verse 38 the "field" is defined as the "world," (Not just the assembly, either the true or the professing.) The "man" is the "son of man," verse 37, meaning the Lord Himself. God has never relinquished the ownership of the world nor has He deserted or altered His eternal plan for it at any time. But the sphere of the parable is "the world," the whole of mankind, the world which "God so loved" of John 3:16 (because the good seed was in it). It is this world that envelopes His purpose as declared in Ephesians 1:10 - "that he might gather together in One all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth."
"While men slept" - so descriptive of Adam and Eve in their conference with the devil, as ones in sleep easily overcome by the enemy. More intrinsically, the truth of this verse lies in the fact that in dealing with "seeds," after the enemy had sown his "seed" all the "seeds" of mankind lay in the loins of Adam, all the elect - the "good seed" sown by the Son of man (from eternity), all the reprobate - the "tares" - sown by the devil. This is the more obvious in view of the owners answer to the servants who would immediately upon discovering the tares gather them up. He says "no, lest ye root up also the wheat with them." The elect are not apparent until fruitbearing time and appear much like the tares until then. Their fruitbearing time is the time of their calling by the evangel, and their indwelling by the Spirit which is accomplished in their lifetime, but they are fully revealed in the great judgment to have been "wheat" from eternity.
For the angels, now, or the assembly through its officers, to so finally judge between tares and wheat would only end in destroying some of God's elect while leaving some of the reprobate to flourish. (This parable has nothing to do with caring for the local assembly; it appears here as the good seed, the children of the Kingdom, and nothing more).
This parable was spoken to the multitude, the interpretation to the disciples only. Let us not forget that the Lord Himself did not intend for all to understand it, but only "those to whom it is given" verses 11 & 12.
Verse 38; "The field is the world." It is imperative to let this verse stand as it does. This is the word spoken by the Greatest Commentator, the Lord Jesus himself. He says "the field is the world." Many commentators alter this to read - "the field is the professing, visible, church" and conclude that there will always be "tares" in the church so we needn't attempt to purify the visible church too carefully. "Let them grow together until the end," they say, "and the Lord will root them out!'
Paedobaptists seem to use this verse in this way in alleviating the embarrassment of implying that all their children are of the elect because they are baptized and given the "covenant" sign as infants. "No," say they, "some of them may be tares but are to be included in the church until they withdraw themselves or the Lord roots them out at the end of the age." These two snares could be avoided by regarding the words of the Lord Jesus - "the field is the world," not the assembly.
The Lord Jesus used the word "ecclesia" elsewhere, He did not use it here. Only with a preconceived interpretation to prop up are we constrained to say "the field is the church." I find nowhere in the apostles' writings that their view of the local visible assembly so complacently entertained the "wheat and the tares" together "until harvest," the "end." "Purge out the old leaven," "Deliver such a one unto Satan," "With such a one do not eat," etc., were their views of maintaining the purity of the local assembly. No, the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the Kingdom - the assembly which is His body, and the tares are forever the children of the devil, co-existing in the world until the "harvest."
On the other hand, perhaps the problem in some people's minds in understanding the words of the Lord Jesus here is that they fail to entertain His view of the Kingdom of Heaven - that it encompasses all men on earth. Because some have been taught that the Kingdom is now synonymous with the assembly, made up only of believers or of professing believers, they cannot understand the Lord Jesus tolerating the presence of "tares" until the end time since He clearly enjoins the assemblies to purge themselves of unbelievers, anti-christs, disorderly persons, etc. in other scriptures. In distinguishing the kingdom and the assembly in this age we must remember that the fullness of the Kingdom in its authority, its purity, its righteousness and its glory, is in abeyance while it is being populated, prepared, cultivated, and formed at the present time.
In the sermon on the mount, He promised certain ones bearing certain characteristics, that "their's was the Kingdom of Heaven" and that they would (eventually) "inherit the earth." He encouraged the children of the Kingdom by saying "fear not little flock for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom (eventually). In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul speaks of the Son delivering the Kingdom "up to the Father" as a thing finally accomplished or finished. So, in God's plan, the Kingdom encompasses the whole scope of mankind in all of time. But it essentially belongs to the King and to the children of the Kingdom, all others being aliens, and will eventually be removed. Does not Paul tell the Corinthians "all things are yours" in perfect consistency with the foregoing truth'
The consummation continues consistently with this view of the Kingdom. Notice that the tares are gathered "first," verse 30, and burnt, then the wheat is gathered into His barns. In His interpretation, verse 41, the Son of Man sends forth His angels to gather out of His Kingdom all things that offend, and this is done first. What an argument our moderns have on their hands here, when they are so ardently trying to make us believe that the Lord sends His angels to gather first His assembly, the children of the Kingdom, and that long before He sends His angels of judgment, perhaps so much as a thousand years before.
And more, they would have us believe that the children of the Kingdom are taken to heaven for a time (usually three and one half years) while the Jews get the "works" (the "great tribulation"). Uninformed of all this, the Lord Jesus taught that which is consistent in all the Scriptures - one final judgment, the wicked taken away forever, the righteous remaining unto everlasting felicity.
Perhaps some will cite Matthew 24:3 1 - "the angels gathering the elect from the four corners of the earth," as favoring the modern view of an early rapture of the assembly which is His body. But this verse, in accord with its context, is the prophetic word of our Lord Jesus concerning His gospel angels, or "messengers" (same word in the original, used of John in Matthew 11:10) who are presently performing their office of gathering the elect - the children of the Kingdom - of both Jews and Gentiles from the four corners of the earth.
While in Matthew 24, do notice in verses 39-41 that the judgment likened to the days of Noah comes and "takes them all away." Who was "taken away" in Noah's day, the righteous or the wicked, and who was left' So in verses 40 & 41 the ones "taken" are not there "raptured" to heaven as we are often so glibly
Informed, but rather they are "taken" in fearful judgment as those in Noah's day!
Paul expresses this consistently in II Thessalonians 2:6-11. Notice the angels come in flaming fire to execute judgment and vengeance on the wicked "when He shall come to be glorified in His saints," not some great period later as perhaps a thousand years. All is done in the same advent - judgment first with glory following. In I Thessalonians 4 with its sequence of the rapture (those rising first are first there before the living saints, rising from the dead to be received with the living saints at that time, but not necessarily first before the wicked dead) is not definite as to any place the saints are taken other than the "clouds" and to be ever with the Lord, wherever He personally goes. This is the Lord's lifting the righteous while He sweeps away the wicked from under them as a man at his workbench lifts his work to sweep away the chips and shavings that he might set it down again unimpaired by the offal.
The Lord Jesus in His last parable in this series declares that, in the end, the angels shall come forth and sever the wicked "from among" the just, and not the present dispensationalist's "just" from among the "wicked."
PROGRESS OF THE KINGDOM
The Parable of the Mustard Seed,
Matthew 12:31, 32
This parable deals with the primacy and the progress of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven sustains and influences the governments of the earth whether civil or ecclesiastical. Here the Kingdom stands as the great superstructure of society with the "birds of the air" (led by the 'prince of the power of the air" Ephesians 2:2) resting within its confines, just as the tares in the previous parable.
But first let us follow the growth of the Kingdom itself. From a very small seed, such as Abel or Seth, which a man took and sowed in his field, it grew slightly in stature up through Abraham and Isaac, then a little larger with Jacob having formed some twelve branches at that time. Then in the fertile valleys of Egypt it expanded considerably, was transplanted into Palestine where it flourished greatly for a time and then suffered a period of dearth until it seemed that the plant would die, in fact there came a time when the axe was laid to its root and many of the branches were broken off, but the Husbandman grafted in some "wild" branches and the tree now flourishes more than ever. In this somewhat allegorical sketch we trace the confines of the children of the Kingdom from the patriarchs through the nation of Israel and finally among the Gentiles throughout the whole earth.
While men (like David) who visibly reigned as kings on the earth, were part of that "salt" which seasoned and preserved mankind by their practical application of righteousness and truth in their government, there are untold numbers of "birds of the air," like Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, which only rest in the branches of the undergirding "rule of the Heavens," adopting only the ideals of glory and authority while ignoring both righteousness and a supreme authority in heaven. In reading Daniel 4, notice verse 30, the king is speaking - "Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty'' Is there an earthly ruler anywhere that feels otherwise about his kingdom' Then the truth rings out - "The kingdom is departed from thee ... until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever He will." After seven years of abject humiliation, Nebuchadnezzar finally confessed to the sovereign rule of God in the affairs of men, concluding that he now did "praise and extol and honor the king (and the kingdom) of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment." Thus while the "birds" may do a lot of crowing from their little vantage points in the Kingdom, they are all sustained, whether they know it or not, by the undergirding rule of the Kingdom of Heaven. "There is NO authority but of God," says Paul.
And what is said of civil governments might well be written of so called ecclesiastical and denominational authorities. Obviously the rule of the heavens supersedes all their man devised boundaries and limitations supposedly of the people of God, the children of the Kingdom. But here again are just so many crows, each trying to caw from a higher branch than another, and perhaps a little louder, all apparently failing to recognize the One (and only) exalted Head of the body, His assembly, to Whom alone all His people are subject and in Whom they all are one. While there is no question that God has granted authority within the bounds of His assembly, it isn't and never was devised to promote schism; and where His authority is recognized, there will be peace and unity among the Children of His Kingdom.
Again, it must be emphasized, the importance of taking the parables as a whole. Because the parable begins - "the Kingdom of Heaven is like unto leaven ..." most commentators interpret the leaven to be apostasy invading and pervading the church in the last days, since leaven itself is sometimes likened unto evil, both by the Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul. But in taking the parable as a whole, and as a principle of permeating influence, we see again the internal or invisible aspect of the kingdom of Heaven - its effect upon governments and societies.
Before enlarging upon the great influence of the Kingdom in the earth, let me point out that the three measures of meal were "leavened" completely but were not turned into leaven. This seems to be the main problem for those who want to see in this parable the church finally overcome by evil, they think that the meal actually was turned to leaven. It was not. It only felt the effect of leaven upon it but remained largely unchanged as to its original elements. Thus it is quite consistent to believe that the good news of the Kingdom, proclaimed throughout the whole earth, will have tremendous effect on all of society without consequently believing that all society will be converted to or made willingly subject to the King of Kings before His return in power and glory.
While the primary objective of the good news of the Kingdom is to call the children of the Kingdom to "repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ," its secondary influence is to promote righteousness and restrain evil in the earth, which is done both by those who believe it and by the Word itself. I need only call attention to the origin of this great nation, the United States, to illustrate my point. Actually, from this viewpoint, the United States was born in Acts Chapter 16 when Paul crossed from Asia into Europe to proclaim the evangel in Macedonia. It was then only a matter of time, (a few hundred years) and the leavening work of the Kingdom, until those few devout men and women left the shores of England for America, carrying in their bosoms the Biblical concepts of liberty and justice that would eventually give birth to a new nation. How greatly their Biblical concepts affected the formation of our constitutional government! Now do not misunderstand, I am not saying that the United States is a branch of the Kingdom of Heaven. Not at all. I only illustrate how the principles of the Kingdom of Heaven, borne in the hearts of the children of the Kingdom throughout the whole earth, have their great effect on government and society. In this respect, the children of the Kingdom are the "salt of the earth." If it wasn't for their integrity, their righteousness in action, their living the truth, and proclamation of the Savior, mankind would soon be consumed both by "man's inhumanity to man" and more directly, the wrath of God.
The fact of "three measures" as over against an undetermined amount, suggests the truth that God has "made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation" Acts 17:26. Did not the King commission His lieutenants - "Go ye into all the world and proclaim the evangel to every creature'' The "whole" shall yet be "leavened!"
PRECIOUSNESS OF THE KINGDOM
Parables of the Treasure and the Pearl,
The next two parables deal with the purchase price of the Kingdom and its preciousness in the eyes of the buyer. They were delivered, not to the multitude, but to the disciples "In the house." The "multitude" is not expected (nor empowered, verse 11) to understand and appreciate the "price" of the Kingdom nor the love that paid it.
Considering the external or outward aspect and the internal or invisible, these parables differ in that in the first the "man" buys the whole field (the world) that He might possess the "treasure" contained within it; in the second, the "man" purchases only that one pearl that meets his approval - His elect people chosen from eternity. The two are the same in the fact that in both the "man" sells "all that he has." This phrase is the obvious key to the interpretation of them. Certainly this cannot be the sinner finding the Kingdom of Heaven and selling all that he has to obtain it, for the sinner is bankrupt and has "nothing to pay" with. No, it can only be Him who has "sold all that he has" - He who purchased us with His own blood, the only acceptable price of redemption.
Here again the "field" appears which is continually used of the world, the whole world economy of man under Heaven's sovereign rule. The "treasure" is the elect people of God of all time, scattered as though hidden throughout the whole world and through all ages. This treasure is hidden to all eyes except the eyes of Him who has the "seven horns and seven eyes" (Revelation 5:6 - describing His omnipotence and omniscience) though it is declared to men to be within the bounds of every "kindred, tongue, and tribe, and nation." Thus a man may look at the world and say - "this contains the treasure of God," but he cannot distinguish the pearl, only God in Christ can select it.
It is remarkable that in this parable it is "for joy" that He buys the field at great expense to Himself. It was for "the joy that was set before him" that "he endured the cross" (Hebrews 12:2), an exact parallel to this parable. Here He revealed the tremendous emotional value that God manifests in redemption - "He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied (Isaiah 53). The pearl, in the next parable, speaks of the great beauty of the "purchased possession," even the righteousness of saints "arrayed in white robes," which is the righteousness of Christ imputed to them.
In this second parable of the pair, which consistently reveals the Godward side of the picture, the man is seeking something definite, a distinct pearl, one that excels all others. When He has looked, with the eye of a Divine Connoisseur, over many pearls, He finds one of unexcelled beauty, the price of which exhausts all of His resources. This suggests the possibility that the redemption of fallen angels might have been a worthy "pearl" but "he took not on him the cause of angels" but "he took on him the cause of the seed of Abraham." His pearl was the election from among the fallen, rebellious, apostate, helpless, dying sons of Adam! This is the assembly which is His body, His bride, which He loved and "gave Himself for." I know of no other interpretation that begins to do justice to the simple language here describing so profound a truth. Only the Greatest of Teachers could so clearly and with such brevity convey truth of such magnitude with such ease. Who else, I ask, could in one sentence describe the essence of "the eternal purpose of God in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 3:11).
One more thing should be noted here - In these two parables there is as nearly a reconciliation as is possible of those two truths that run so parallel in Scripture - "God so loved the world that he gave his son,"- and yet - "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated," or "God was in Christ reconciling the world" - and yet "we have received the reconciliation" as spoken of the elect (II Corinthians 5 and Romans 5).
There is that scriptural aspect of the truth that Christ has purchased the "whole world" for Himself "He is the Savior of all men" and yet, as in the second parable here -"especially of them that believe" (I Timothy 4:10). Because He has purchased the whole "field," the Father has "given him authority over all flesh," but in that He bought also a "pearl of great price" He has this authority in order "that He might give eternal life to as many as thou hast given Him" (John 17:3). Just as in John 3:16, God so (or thus) loved the world in order that "the believing ones" (the pearl) might not perish.
Did He not declare after His death and resurrection "All authority is given unto ME in heaven and in earth'" This is now His by right of purchase. The disposition of the souls of all men lies in His sovereign hand. "He will thoroughly purge His floor, though the smoking flax he will not quench nor the bruised reed will He break." He has taken the reign of government, "the scepter of His Kingdom is a scepter of righteousness," and He rules in unbending justice over the impenitent rebel, yet in infinite mercy over those of a broken spirit and a contrite heart. The book of Revelation describes His present warfare with His enemies, their certain failure and doom, and His final overthrow of all opposition and His consummate glorious reign forever.
This grand truth of His authority over all things by purchase is shown to John in Revelation 5 as the elder comforts the weeping John by declaring that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah has prevailed to open the seven sealed scroll. When John looks to see the King, the Lion, Behold! he sees a Lamb AS IT HAD BEEN SLAUGHTERED (in sacrifice) - alone worthy to take the scroll and read it. As the Lion He rules, because as the Lamb He has "sold all that he had" to purchase His Kingdom.
PURIFYING THE KINGDOM
Parable of the Drag Net
This last parable stands alone rather than one of a pair. It reveals the consummation of the age wherein the invisible purpose of God throughout the ages and the visible aspects of the Kingdom are focused or fused into one event - the final judgment. At this time all of mankind appear as either good "fish" or bad. There are no other kinds.
The emphasis of this parable is upon the judgment, not upon the "sea," the various kinds of fish, or what comprises a full net. The parable, taken as a whole, declares simply the FINAL judgment of all men. The Lord Jesus so interpreted it and so must we. Some fail to see this and suppose the net to gather just a portion of mankind out of the "sea" and thus interpret the net to be "the professing church" out of which the Lord "severs" the wicked from among the just at His coming. But can you conceive of the Lord Jesus saying that when the "professing church" is full, then shall the angels come forth and sever the wicked ...... etc.' When shall His assembly be full of unbelievers' NEVER! The very first parable declares that false profession is dealt with and exposed in this life. The seven letters of the Revelation likewise show the Lord Jesus walking among His assemblies judging, chastening, and purifying them while they are yet on the earth in this age.
Only the grand, majestic, comprehensive view of the Kingdom as prevails in the six previous parables can unfold the meaning here in the seventh. HIS Kingdom through the ages has gathered of every kind, all of every kind (kindred, tribe, tongue and nation) until the last one of mankind has seen the light of day and
the purpose of God for this earth in this age has come to a close. Then the net is drawn to shore and the angels shall come according to II Thess. 1 and separate the wicked from among the just, not simply from their company, but from their presence and sight forever.
If these parables are as grand and consummate as they seem to be, being exposition by the Greatest Teacher ever heard, one finds it impossible to find a place for two resurrections with a millennium intervening between the reception of the righteous and the judging of the wicked unbelievers. The Lord's words - "there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth" - uttered twice, verses 42 and 50, declare the lot of the wicked, who are at the time of the Lord's only return, in glory, collected by His angels, judged, and consigned to this inestimable punishment for their sins against the King.
What then remains' - the "good seed," the "children of the Kingdom," the "righteous shining forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their father." Now, if this is the same Kingdom and the same Father that Paul speaks of in I Corinthians 15:24, then this is the same resurrection spoken of in that chapter which is the first and only bodily resurrection, and is simultaneous with the final judgment, and not one thousand years before it.
This parable dealing with "kinds" is an apt commentary upon John 5:27-29. "And has given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of Man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." The resurrection of life and the resurrection of damnation are NOT distinguished by time but by "kind," as in this parable.
One other point of interest is the great consistency of the Scripture in emphasizing the manhood of Jesus Christ in respect to judgment. In Matthew and John quoted above, it is the "Son of Man" that judges. In II Thessalonians 1:7 it is the "Lord Jesus" (not "Christ") who punishes the wicked, and in Acts Paul declares that God shall "judge the world in righteousness by that MAN whom He has ordained." Contrary to what men generally think - that they shall be judged by an ethereal, invisible voice or Being - men shall be judged by a MAN - "the man Christ Jesus" "whom ye slew and hanged on a tree," in the great day of His vindication and glory!