The Kingdom Clarified

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

34 All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:

“I will open my mouth in parables;
    I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” – Matthew 13:24-43 ESV

Continuing to speaking in parables, Jesus let the crowd know that He was expounding on the kingdom of heaven – God’s divinely ordained kingdom. But because He was using parables, they were unable to discern the meaning behind His words. To them, these stories came across more like riddles, leaving them wondering what it was Jesus was trying to say. Even His own disciples said to Him, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field” (Matthew 13:36 ESV).

Jesus had told His disciples, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 13:11 ESV). In other words, they were being given the unique privilege of hearing about previously hidden mysteries concerning the kingdom of God. The truths Jesus was about to share with them were not new. In fact, they had been in existence from before the foundation of the world. But they had been hidden from the eyes and understandings of men. 

While the Jewish people thought they were fully informed about the kingdom of God, they were actually operating on partial information and had reached some false conclusions. That was why they were having a difficult time accepting Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah. He didn’t fit the bill. He had shown up in the form they had been expecting. Jesus did not look like a king. He had no army. There was no royal retinue or regal robes that would have marked Him as a king.

So, Jesus began to divulge some essential information regarding the kingdom that was going to conflict with all their preconceived assumptions. But He would do so through parables.  And much of what He had to say is, as He put it, was a mystery or secret, previously undisclosed and unknown. Jesus was having to deal with many centuries-worth of false conceptions among the people of Israel regarding the coming kingdom. Their longings for a Messiah were accompanied by dreams of liberation from Roman rule and restoration of their status as a world power. The kingdom they were hoping and longing for was an earthly one. The king for whom they were waiting was to be a warrior-king just like David had been.

But with these parables, Jesus provides an as-yet-undisclosed aspect of the kingdom that was in direct conflict with their expectations. Remember, the parable of the sower or the soils was about the receptivity of the people to the message about the coming kingdom. Many would hear the good news of the Messiah’s arrival but refuse to believe it. Others would get excited upon hearing the news, but then discover that His kingdom was associated with persecution, trials, and difficulties. Their expectations of the kingdom having been unmet, they would fall away.

Jesus has made it clear that there will be many who hear the message of the kingdom, but who refuse to accept it. And yet, in these parables, He discloses that the message will take root among “the sons of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:38 ESV). And while the initial number of those who hear the message and believe it will be small, it will grow exponentially.

Like a tiny mustard seed that eventually grows into a massive tree, the kingdom of heaven will start small, but greatly expand over time. Its influence will be like that of leaven on a lump of dough which, in time, eventually permeates its way through the entire batch. In these parables, Jesus is revealing an aspect of His kingdom that is far-distant in its focus. He is speaking of the millennial kingdom which will come at the end of the period of the Great Tribulation. It will be at His second coming that Jesus establishes His kingdom on earth and its influence will be all-pervasive. He will rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem and it will be a period marked by perfect righteousness and justice.

But until that day arrives, the Son of Man will continue to sow the good seed within the world. And, as Jesus explained, the good seed represents the sons of the kingdom, those whom He has redeemed as His own.

The period in which we live is called “the church age” – a time when Christ-followers find themselves co-mingled with unbelievers. The sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one are forced to co-exist until the harvest, which Jesus said will take place at the end of the age. Until that time, Jesus will continue to sow His seeds (His sons and daughters) in the world, and their influence will spread. But they will find themselves surrounded by the sons of Satan, those who have rejected the message of the Gospel or the kingdom of heaven. But rather than despair, the sons of the kingdom are to recognize that God’s redemptive plan is not yet done. He is going to send His Son a second time, when He will bring a permanent end to the forces of wickedness and the one who stands behind it all – Satan.

But in the meantime, we must realize that this phase of God’s plan will allow the kingdom to remain relatively hidden, but far from inactive. Like yeast, it will continue to spread. Like the tiny mustard seed, it will slowly transform into something unexpectedly large and significant. And while the weeds will continue to sprout up all around the sons of the kingdom, the day will come when God will call for the harvest. That event will include the separating of the wheat from the weeds. And while the weeds will undergo judgment, the sons of the kingdom “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43 ESV).

At present, the righteous and the unrighteous live side by side on this planet. And, at times, it appears as if the kingdom of heaven is being overrun by the weeds of the enemy. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between the wheat and the weeds. But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that this was to be expected during this phase of His kingdom plan. The period in which they lived was to be for the purpose of sowing. They were to sow the seed of the Gospel and allow God to reap the harvest when the time was right. All they needed to know was that, in spite of the presence of the enemy, the kingdom would continue to grow and spread. The day will come when God sends His Son back to gather all those whom He has sown in the world. It will be at that point that the King sets up His kingdom on earth.

None of this was what the Jews expected. Even Jesus’ disciples would have found this news to be surprising and somewhat disappointing. Like every other Jew, they were expecting the Messiah to rule and reign from the start. They still had expectations that Jesus was going to set up His kingdom in their lifetime. That’s why James and John would later make the bold request of Jesus: “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left” (Mark 10:37 NLT).

But Jesus had come to establish the kingdom of heaven, not earth. He had come to sow sons of the kingdom all throughout a world permeated by the presence of the enemy. And that hidden kingdom would be made up of men and women who would live as aliens and strangers on this earth. While their actual citizenship would be in heaven, their numbers would continue to grow and spread. Their presence would slowly permeate the fallen world, impacting the lives of others through their message and their ministry of reconciliation.

And while they wait for the return of their King, they are to place their hope and faith in His promises, living in the power of His indwelling Holy Spirit. As the apostle Paul reminds us: “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Philippians 3:20 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.