When you finish this session, you should be able to:
- Understand how the kingdom brings opposition.
- Know what the parables of the kingdom mean.
Book Three of Matthew’s Gospel deals with the growing opposition toward the kingdom and instructs about the kingdom with the telling of parables. First, we will see how Jewish people opposed the kingdom because it did not come in a fashion that they expected. Then, we will look at each of the parables of the kingdom as found in Matthew 13.
| Overview |
We are now entering Book Three of Matthew’s five books. Book Three (11.2-13.53) consists of a narrative and instruction section just like the other books. The narrative section is chapters 11-12, and the instruction section is chapter 13. The narrative section is held together by a central theme: The growing opposition to the kingdom. The instruction section presents the parables of the kingdom.
Narrative: The Growing Opposition To The Kingdom: 11.2-12.50
John The Baptist: Matthew 11.2-19
John’s question (Matt. 11.2) was prompted by his conception of a political messiah which was to come and free the captives, especially those who were captives because of their faith. Remember, John was in prison and, if Jesus was the Messiah, according to his expectations he should receive his freedom (1.3).
Jesus replies to the disciples of John by enlisting them to hear what was being said, i.e., the words of the kingdom; and see what was being done, i.e., the works of the kingdom. They were told to report to John what they were witnessing—what …you hear, i.e., what you are now hearing, and what …you see, i.e., what you are now seeing.
Notice the list of things they saw and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walked, the lepers were cleansed, the deaf heard, the dead were raised, the poor had the good news preached to them.
The good news which was being preached was that Satan’s power had been broken. The way we know that his power had been broken is because of the list of things they saw and heard. John’s disciples had seen it all (11.4-6).
As John’s disciples left, Jesus turned his attention toward the crowds. In this passage, Jesus asked one question three times. What did you go into the desert to see (Matthew 11.7-9)? He gives the three answers:
The first two answers, i.e., reed and fine clothes, equals—you received the opposite of what you went for—the reed shaken equals a strong person and fine clothes equal John’s desert attire.
The third answer was the reality of what they found, i.e., a prophet (11.7-10). Here Jesus talked about the greatness of John the Baptist. Remember, John was the first to announce that the kingdom of God was at hand (3.2). His announcement of the kingdom’s imminence declared war.
At 11.12 Jesus states:
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven (God) has been forcefully advancing and forceful men lay hold on it. (NIV)
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven (God) has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. (NRSV)
Unfortunately, neither of these translations are adequate. A better translation would be:
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven (God) is being violently treated, and violent ones are trying to plunder it.
There is no word in the Greek text for men. The Greek word is (bees TIE). It is a plural word and can be translated violent ones.
The word take which I have translated plunder can be defined as to seize by force; to take suddenly and vehemently; to claim for oneself.
Thus, the text suggests that from the time John the Baptist proclaimed the kingdom was coming, (i.e., declaring war on Satan), until now,
(i.e., at the time Jesus was teaching and continuing forward), the rule of God is suffering violence, (i.e., violence is passive which means violence is coming from an outside force upon the kingdom ), and violent ones, (i.e., the demonic forces, which were resisting the advance of the kingdom by the words and works of Jesus), are plundering, (i.e., the persecuting the members of the kingdom ), it, (i.e., the kingdom ) (11.11-15).
Jesus then compared this generation to a game played in the marketplace. The game (kingdom) was offered to be played, but some would not play (11.16-17). We played, but you wouldn’t dance (11.18).
When John came to minister, the response of the Jews should have been repentance. Instead, they condemned John for his asceticism and rejected his appeal, saying he had a demon. When Jesus came to minister, the Jews should have rejoiced, since he inaugurated the rule and grace of God. But, in fact, they rejected Jesus and slandered his pleasures and lifestyle. Verse 19 is a proverb: The wisdom of God is vindicated by its works, i.e., the signs and wonders which conclusively demonstrate that the kingdom has come (11.16-19).
The Judgment: Matthew Matthew 11.20-24
The cities in which Jesus had done most of his mighty works had not repented. They had not accepted the miracles of Jesus as signs of the presence of the promised kingdom. For this rebellious attitude, they were reproached and compared unfavorably with the cities whose names were by-words for wickedness.
Thanksgiving, Revelation, Invitation: Matthew 11.25-30
| Thanksgiving: Matthew 11.25-26
In offering thanksgiving, Jesus does four things. First, he gives praise. Second, he calls God Father (an intimate term which means something like Dad, Daddy, or Pop, or another word of intimacy used for a Father). Third, he declared the Father to be the Lord of everything. Fourth, he stated his reasons for these conclusions, these things equal the miracles mentioned in verses 20-24, wise and learned equals the Scribes and Pharisees, and little children equal those who have accepted what God was doing in Jesus.
| Revelation: Matthew 11.27
In verses 25-26, Jesus gave thanks for the revelation of the kingdom and its recipients. Verse 27 declares the way by which the revelation comes. It comes from the Father through the Son.
Since the establishment of the kingdom involves power over all hostile forces in the universe, there is nothing, then, which may be exempted from all things. All things equals earth, heaven, hell, men, angels, demons, Satan, time, death, eternity, salvation, damnation, grace, judgment, life, truth, righteousness, glory, peace, joy, consolation, refreshing, rest, hope, deliverance from sin, communion with God, love, life in God, just to name a few.
The knowing of God is a closed book to the wise and intellectual of the world. Only by the Son’s revelation can anyone know God. Here, the bottom falls out of all merit, all powers and abilities of reason or the freewill men dream of, and it all counts nothing before God: Christ must do and must give everything.[ref]Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel 1-11. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Press, 1946, 2008. 592-523.[/ref]
| Invitation: Matthew 11.28-30
The weary and burdened are those who were and are weighed down by the burden of legalism. The invitation is to come and attach themselves to Jesus. Come could be translated: Come here to me. The phrase I will give you rest equals I will refresh you. It should be noted here that Jesus is now addressing those who are not yet his followers.
It is under God’s rule and being attached to Jesus that the faithful will find their rest. Yoke equals following Jesus and learning his ways, versus taking off the yoke of the existing Jewish law. Jesus saw himself as gentle and humble and invites those who respond to his words and works to attach themselves to him and learn to be just like him and, in doing so, they will find rest. The yoke is kingdom and burden is the strict law of the religion of the day.
Sabbath Conflict #1: Matthew 12.1-8
We are in the third of Matthew’s five books in which he shows us the growing opposition toward the kingdom of God, which has come because of the words and works that Jesus had said and done. Chapter 11 showed you that the presence of the kingdom in Jesus had been questioned by John the Baptist and rejected by the cities of Galilee. Chapter 12 introduces the material that illustrates the grounds on which the Pharisaic opposition to Jesus and the kingdom developed.
The covenant stipulation that was in question is: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy (Exodus 20.8). In order to maintain this covenant stipulation, a set of legal laws came into being. By the time of Jesus, there were 39 different kinds of work which were forbidden on the Sabbath, so that one could maintain the stipulation of Exodus 20.9-10a:
Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.
What the disciples were doing was breaking one of these 39 restraints. Jesus answered this accusation of the Pharisees with two illustrations.
- Illustration #1 (Matt. 12.3-4). Haven’t you read (1 Sam. 21.1-6) what the First Testament said about David, which showed that human need or necessity has a prior claim.
- Illustration #2 (Matt. 12.5). We are priests of the kingdom; just like the priests in the Temple are innocent, we too are innocent.
The word something in Matthew 12.6 (NIV) can be understood as the presence of the kingdom in Jesus.
The disciples were hungry and there was no food to eat. The Pharisees wanted them to be contained within the restrictions, which were added to the Law so that they would not break the Law. Jesus told them that if they only knew God’s heart, they would know that he desired mercy and sacrifice (12.7). Jesus placed himself as Lord of the Sabbath (compare with Exodus 20.9-10a where God is called Lord).
Sabbath Conflict #2: Matthew 12.9-14
This story illustrates the previous mercy-sacrifice idea. The mercy of God is shown in his concern with the well-being of man rather than the piousness of the Pharisees. Jesus’ basic argument was, if you would help a sheep on the Sabbath, which was okay, then certainly it was okay to help a man (12.11). The result: the Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus. It is ironic that they did not want Jesus to help a man on the Sabbath, but they went out and plotted to kill him on the Sabbath, breaking two of the covenant stipulations at the same time: Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy (Exodus 20.8), and you shall not murder (Exodus 20.13). Isn’t it interesting how we are willing to break righteous norms in order to win our own arguments with others when all the time we are doing just the opposite of what Jesus wants us to do? Such actions are surely repugnant to God.
Servant of God: Matthew 12.15-21
Matthew uses the activity of Jesus to show how he fulfilled what Isaiah had said. The word aware in verse 15 may indicate what has been called a prophetic insight (See Gracelets). In the middle of conflict Jesus still healed all who were sick. (…he withdrew…and he healed…). The withdrawing and non-argumentativeness of Jesus were also foretold by Isaiah 42.2, “…he will not quarrel or cry out…,” Jesus would comfort the weak-hearted and powerless. He would help them not hurt them! The ones outside of Israel will find hope in him (12.21).
Further Accusation and Reply: Matthew 12.22-37
| The Accusation: Matthew 12.22-24
Matthew demonstrates that what Jesus was doing was foretold of him, i.e., he would bring help. The result was that the Pharisees accused Jesus and attributed his power to expel demons as the power which came from being in the service of Satan and possessed by Satanic power. How twisted our minds get when we can’t see clearly.
| The Reply: Matthew 12.25-37
The words city and household indicate units of organization within the kingdom of Satan. The implication was that their own students who cast out demons must be doing it also by Satan’s power (12.27). Since I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, you can know that the kingdom of God has come near (12.28).
Matthew 12.29 is a metaphor. Satan is the strong man and Jesus is the stronger man who takes back those things, which have been taken by the strong man wrongfully. The defeat of Satan was taking place in the healing ministry of Jesus. Sickness was and is one of Satan’s great provinces of power. One cannot be neutral with reference to Jesus. It is impossible (12.30).
The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is attributing the ministry of Jesus in healing and casting out demons to the Satanic realm (12.31). You can attack me, i.e., like the Sabbath conflict, etc., and be forgiven, but, if you speak against the power that gives ministry to hurting people and makes them well, you will not be forgiven. This age or age to come equals never (12.32).
| Words Reveal Character: Matthew 12.33-37
The blasphemy of the Pharisees and their attack on Jesus were not accidental. They simply reveal what these men were, i.e., evil (12.34) and evil speakers (12.35f.). It is by their very words that they will be judged. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of is the expression of a person’s basic attitude and orientation. His or her attitude and orientation will be shown by what is spoken. Empty words are the words, which have been spoken by the Pharisees.
The Sign Of Jonah: Matthew Matthew 12.38-42
The Pharisees were asking for a sign, which would authenticate the ministry of Jesus. When the Synoptic writers use the word sign, they are not speaking of a miracle. When John uses the word sign in his Gospel, the word does mean miracle. It was a convincing display of Spirit empowerment to which they looked. Paul in 1 Cor. 1.22 said it characterized the Jews. For them, the Messiah would be recognized and accredited by such. Matthew 12.30 speaks of a sign which is the death and resurrection of Jesus told by Jesus via the story of Jonah and the “Queen of the South.”
The Return Of The Unclean Spirit: Matthew 12.43-45
Here is a specific case of demonization which Jesus used, as an illustration, picturing the condition of this generation. In Matthew 12.43, rest means someplace where the demon could satisfy his destructive desires. The word arid in Matthew 12.44 has no explanation given. The fact that one has been freed from the enemy does not grant perpetual immunity from the enemy’s assaults.
“This wicked generation” had been provided with the cleansing ministry of the kingdom in the ministry of Jesus. They had accepted his ministry for a time, but now they were objecting and refusing his ministry. They could expect the same result with their generation as was true with the demonized man who was freed, unoccupied, and reoccupied by more evil and ended up in a worse condition (Matt. 12.45).
The True Family Of Jesus: Matthew 12.46-50
Jesus shows that their rejection of the kingdom will send him toward producing a new family, which would accept the kingdom. That family is the ecclesia, which is the New Israel.
Some Basic Affirmations
The kingdom has arrived in Jesus, but the enemy doesn’t give up easily. Rebellious attitudes can bring judgment into your life. Legalism can cause stagnation in your new life in Jesus.
What can Jesus Followers Learn?
- Unrealistic expectations can cause grief.
- Legalism can cause grief.
- Satan has been defeated and is tied by a long rope.[ref]Oscar Cullmann. Christ and Time. 1964. 198.[/ref]
- Rejection of Jesus by the Jews provided a window of opportunity for the Gentiles.
Instruction: The Parables Of The Kingdom: Matthew 13.1-53
The parables of the kingdom found in Matthew are illustrations of the kingdom of God. The prophets of the First Testament had told about a glorious day when God’s kingdom would come. In that day, God would displace all other kingdoms and authorities. The Jews would view this coming kingdom as the single, greatest, major event of their history.
John the Baptist had foretold the coming kingdom of God (Matt. 3.2). He had told his listeners that the one who was to come would bring a twofold baptism (Matt. 3.11). Some would be Spirit-baptized and experience the rule of God in their lives. Others would be baptized with the fire of judgment.
From prison, John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was really the one who was to come. John’s problem with understanding Jesus was created because Jesus was not acting, in his opinion, like the one who was prophesied to come. Where was the Spirit baptism? Where was the judgment of the wicked? A problem which every devout Jew had, including the disciples of Jesus, was how could Jesus be the bearer of the kingdom, while sin and sinful institutions remained unpunished?
The kingdom was there in Jesus, but instead of destroying every human institution, the kingdom had come to attack the rule of Satan. The kingdom will still come in its fullness, at a future time, but it had come, then, in an unexpected way. The parables of Jesus should be seen in this historical context. The Jews expected one thing, but they received something else. They expected judgment and God’s complete rule over all institutions and rulerships. Jesus did not reject that expectation, but he taught that it was to be fulfilled in the future.
So the parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13 teach both the present reality of the kingdom as well as the future reality of the kingdom. There are seven kingdom parables in Matthew chapter 13. Two of the parables—the wheat and the weeds and the net—were concerned with what the Jews were concerned with—the judgment. The other five are concerned with the present reality of the kingdom, which Jesus had come to bring. These five parables are the sower, the mustard seed, the leaven, the treasure, and the fine pearls.
The Sower: Matthew 13.1-23
The parable is told in Matthew 13.1-9. There are two concepts in this passage which are important: the first is the act of sowing and the second is receptivity. In Matthew 13.18-23, the parable of the sower is explained for the disciples by Jesus. It should be understood against the background of agricultural life in first-century Palestine. We should also note that just because Jesus treated this parable in an allegorical way, does not give us permission to treat all parables as allegory. A good exegetical rule of thumb is: When Jesus treats a parable as allegory, then we should. When he doesn’t, we shouldn’t.
The sower is not a careless person because he scatters the seed along the path, among the thorns, or ground which had no soil depth. He does so intentionally; the path which the villagers have made by walking, and the thorns which lie withered in the soil, will be plowed up to receive the seed. In Palestine, plowing came after sowing. The detail that plowing follows sowing is important for a correct interpretation of this parable. It serves to caution us that less attention should be given to the various kinds of soil, and more attention given to the act of sowing itself. Thus, the act of sowing is the key to its understanding.
The analogy is that the rule of God is breaking into the world just as the seed is being sown and is going to break into the soil. The central point which Jesus was teaching was that the kingdom had come, the rule of God was then present.
The late George Ladd wrote, “The kingdom has come into the world to be received by some and rejected by others.”[ref]George Ladd. A Theology of the New Testament, Revised. 93[/ref] The parable shows a diversity of response to the proclamation of the word concerning the kingdom. First, the path demonstrates that Satan robs the seed before the plowman can turn it into the soil to take root. Satan is antagonistic toward the kingdom. Second, the rocky soil represents those who reject the word of the kingdom because of the world with its tribulations and persecution. Third, the thorns are the symbol of those who reject the kingdom because of the world with its cares and riches. Fourth, the good soil denotes those who accept the kingdom and produce and produce the present reality of the kingdom.
Jesus is the sower. The seed is the good news that God’s rule has come now. Satan will rob some. Some will reject and others will accept the present rulership of God into their lives.
The Wheat and the Weeds (Tares): Matthew 13.24-30
The concepts to be aware of in this parable are the judgment of God and separation from the world. The time frame is the future reality of the kingdom. The wheat and the weeds are explained in verses 36-43. Remember, the Jews were looking for the kingdom to come with judgment. Judgment is the essence of this parable. Notice that the parable, also, has to do with sowing and reaping.
Jesus gives the following cast of characters:
- The sower is Jesus.
- The field is the world, not the ecclesia.
- The good seeds are the sons of the kingdom.
- The weeds are the sons of the evil one.
- The enemy is the devil.
- The harvest is the close of this present evil age.
- The reapers are the angels.
There is a mixed society that appears as Jesus sows the good seed and Satan sows weeds. At the close of the present age, the truth will be revealed, dividing humanity into two classes:
- The righteous: the sons of the kingdom
- The unrighteous: the sons of the evil one.
This final division will be handled by the angels at the command of Jesus. The results will be that the unrighteous will experience the anguish of final rejection, and the righteous will experience the radiance of being accepted by the Father.
The Mustard Seed: Matthew 13.31-32
In this parable, the key that you should be aware of is the contrast between the kingdom in this age and that of the age to come. The time frame encompasses both the present and future reality of the kingdom. Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is like the mustard seed.” Jesus is comparing the present reality of the rule of God, the small mustard seed, with the future reality, the large shrub or tree. The presence of the kingdom of God now is only a small taste of what the final future reality will be like. Paul says it is like a down payment (Eph. 1,13-14) or earnest money (2 Cor. 1,18-21). Our present experience of the kingdom is only a partial experience of what it will be like in the kingdom’s future.
The Leaven: Matthew 13.33
The key here in this parable is the transforming power of the kingdom. The time frame is the present reality of the kingdom. The rule of God has a transforming power in both societies in general, and the individuals, in particular. This parable suggests that the kingdom of God will one day completely prevail, that no king, i.e., Satan, will continue to rule, i.e., the whole becomes leavened.
The Treasure: Matthew 13.44
The Fine Pearls: Matthew 13.45-46
The concept of these two parables is the value of the kingdom that should be sought. The time frame is the present reality of the kingdom.
The kingdom of God is of inestimable value and should be sought over all other possessions (Matt. 6.33). This concept is what both of these parables are teaching. The differences between them are:
- The parable about the treasure suggests a man who stumbled onto the kingdom without really searching for it, and when he found it, it was worth more than all his other possessions.
- The parable about the fine pearls suggests a person who was actively searching for the kingdom and finally found it.
The Net: Matthew 13.47-50
The concept in this parable is about judgment and separation and the time frame is the future reality of the kingdom. This parable is like the wheat and weeds parable. It deals with the future reality of judgment when the righteous and unrighteous will be judged and separated. A perfect, complete, and holy community will take place in the future.
The kingdom parables teach us through stories what Jesus had acted out in reality and in fact. The kingdom had come. Satan’s time was limited. Some will accept the rule of God now; others will reject it. There will be a future judgment and a complete holy community for God’s children.
Some Basic Affirmations
- The parables of the kingdom illustrate the rule of God.
- The kingdom has invaded the present evil age.
- Some will receive it and others will reject it.
- The mixed society that we live in will be sorted out by God at the end.
- The kingdom is now present and is only a small taste of the fullness of it in the future.
- One day, future to us, the kingdom will completely prevail.
- Whether stumbling into or pursuing it, the kingdom is a treasure worth more than all other positions.
What Can Jesus Followers Learn?
- God makes his rule available to everyone. Those who choose to receive it will grow.
- It is not our job as believers to sort out the bad and good in the earth. This will be accomplished by God at the end.
- The rule of God in your life is only a small foretaste of the completed kingdom of the future.
- To seek and find the kingdom is a great treasure worth more than any other possession you may have.
Catalog your ideas about the following thoughts.
- John the Baptist: How do unrealistic theological expectations cause you to fear?
- The Judgment: What are the consequences in life for not accepting the works of Jesus?
- Sabbath Conflict: What legalistic codes have you added to the Gospel?
- The Sign of Jonah: How does asking for a sign demonstrate a lack of faith? Or, does it? Why?
- The Sower: In what way does this parable help you understand rejection?
- The Wheat and the Weeds: How does judging get in the way of ministry?
- The Mustard Seed: In what ways do you understand the growth of the kingdom?
- The Leaven: How is the kingdom transforming your life?
Community Discussion Questions
➡ |CDQ Info|
- What happens when you discover that what you believed is not correct?
- How will the rejection of the works of Jesus today be handled by God?
- Can you state the reasons that you have for offering thanksgiving to God? What are they?
- In what areas of your life do you need the rest of God?
- What do you have to do to receive his rest?
- How does legalism still control all parts of your Christian lifestyle?
- How does your own Christian piety stand in your way of helping others?
- How does the ministry of being a servant work out in your life?
- What is your part in continuing the work of Jesus in today’s society?
- Do you believe that you can bind Satan? Or, is that the mission of the professional clergy?
- What do the words you speak reveal about what is inside you?
- How does asking for a sign and having faith intersect?
- How often has the enemy come back like a rush, because you refused the continual ministry of Jesus in your life? Name some.
- How has your understanding of this parable changed? How will that change affect your ministry?
- In what way does this parable bring relief to the belief that it is our personal responsibility to detect the weeds and spray them with weed killer?
- What causes the growth of the kingdom? What is your part?
- How does the transforming power of the kingdom bring newness to life?
- What value do you place in the kingdom of God in your life?