Jesus is teaching His disciples the importance of knowing what He meant by the Kingdom of God, and making sure they knew it was His purpose; why He was sent. And when Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, He spoke in terms of a real government—a structured, organized entity with the very authority of God behind it. (Certain rulers who heard Christ's message recognized the political implications and viewed His words as a threat to their own power. This became a factor in Christ's eventual crucifixion).
But God is a God of order. To Jesus and His disciples, the term "Kingdom of God" meant a government that would be established on earth. They anticipated that its arrival would amount to nothing less than a sweeping, overwhelming change in the world order. And those in power could not let that happen. The powerful still don't want to recognize the supremacy of His government!
We also need to recognize that there are two different fulfillments we need to consider when discussing the Kingdom of God: 1) The Bible shows that when the Kingdom comes in the future, the returning Christ will take His place as divine ruler of the earth. It is a literal Kingdom on earth, with Jesus as the ruler. 2) Since the Kingdom is wherever the King is ruler, if He is the ruler of your heart, then the spiritual Kingdom of God exists in you HERE AND NOW.
In light of these two fulfillments, it is important that we contemplate the chapter of Matthew 13, which consists entirely of parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. The disciples asked Jesus, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And He answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” Notice that He doesn't say you have been given the knowledge of Salvation ... No! He was teaching them about the significance of the Kingdom of Heaven and why it was important, both in the present and in the future.
In each of the parables in Matthew 13, Jesus presents an argument that begins with, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like...". I don't know about you, but for years, I read those parables in terms of what moral lesson He was trying to teach me. I never made the connection that they all pointed to the Kingdom of Heaven. As I looked for a lesson in each one, I missed that He was giving us valuable information that pertained to Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Let me give you a short synopsis on each of the parables and why it was important to Jesus that we get this concept. I recommend that you read these parables in Matthew, Chapter 13, with a new spiritual eye towards The Kingdom of God.
The Parable of the Sower: Each soil represents one of four responses to the teaching of the Kingdom of God. With each response, but one, the message is lost.
The Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Weeds): There was corruption in the Kingdom, but it will be sorted out at harvest time.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed: (This is the most fascinating to me, and is an alternate view of the one most often presented!) This parable accurately describes what the kingdom community became in the decades and centuries after the Christianization of the Roman Empire. In those centuries the Church grew abnormally large in influence and dominion, and was a nest for much corruption. Close study of birds as symbols in the Old Testament, and especially in the literature of later Judaism, shows that birds regularly symbolize evil and even demons or Satan.
The Parable of the Leaven: Three measures is far more leaven than is needed to make bread, and represents the addition of corruption and impurity through “paganizing influences” introduced into the Kingdom.
The Parable of the Hidden Treasure: The man is Jesus and this parable speaks of how highly the King values the people of His kingdom. The treasure that is so wonderful that Jesus would give all to purchase is the individual believer. This powerfully shows how Jesus gave everything to redeem the whole world to preserve a treasure in it, and the treasure is His people.
The Parable of the Pearl of Great Value: Again, Jesus is the buyer and the individual believer is the pearl that He sees as so valuable that He would happily give all to have it forever. To the ancient peoples that Jesus was speaking to, a pearl was the loveliest of all possessions; Jesus is telling them that the people of His Kingdom are the most valuable thing to Him.
The Parable of the (Drag)Net: Jesus shows that the world will remain divided right up until the end, and the Church will not reform the world. The King will return, the angels will assist the King in the work of judgment, and He will establish His Kingdom on earth.
As I have studied further about Jesus's teachings on the Kingdom of God, I now understand how the early Church might have been confused about it's significance, and how that has translated to near ignorance on the part of the modern Church.
In fact, the hope of the early church was that the Lord would return in the clouds to establish a Kingdom of peace and justice. That is what Jesus preached! They had yet to learn that the Kingdom was in them! The Disciples believed in the literal return and reign of Christ on earth. Jesus, Himself, said in Matthew 25:31, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” He goes on to say in verse 32, that He will then judge the nations, separating the sheep from the goats. But He also told them in Luke 17:21: "You won't be able to say, 'Here it is!' or 'It's over there!' For the Kingdom of God is already among you." We can see both the future and the present Kingdoms of God presented here.
So, how have we come to lose the importance of Jesus's message about the Kingdom of God? It began to change through the centuries as follows: The Church began to limit the idea of the Kingdom of God to just mean the 1,000 year reign of Christ in the Millennial Kingdom. While The Kingdom of God and the Millennial Kingdom aren’t the same, they do overlap. Then theologians began arguing if the Millennial Kingdom was literal or allegorical. The early Church fathers Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian believed in a literal Millennial Kingdom. In the 3rd Century, Origen was the first to present the allegorical theory. Then just a few years later, Augustine changed the theory even more. He “identified the Church with the Kingdom of God and maintained that the millennial age had already come”. In his highly influential book The City of God, Augustine wrote: “Therefore the Church, even now, is the kingdom of Christ, and the kingdom of heaven” (Book XX, Chapter 9). In essence, Augustine taught that the Church in this present world is the Kingdom of God, and “the thousand years stand for all the years of the Christian era”.
We need to remember that the Hebrew prophets showed that the arrival of God's Kingdom on earth would bring worldwide peace, physical abundance and divine righteousness. Isaiah 2:4 tells us that He will judge among the nations, and rebuke many people; that people will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; and that nations won’t lift their swords against other nations, and man will learn war no more.
But history shows us that the “Christian era” or “the Church era” that Augustine equated with God's Kingdom has been a time of violence, war, death, starvation and widespread lawlessness. We certainly can’t say mankind is no longer learning war! So the Church, in this "Age of Grace," has obviously not spread Jesus’s Gospel Message about the Kingdom of God!
Continuing from the historical perspective, in the 18th Century mankind adopted “the Age of Reason”, and instead of basing all knowledge in Biblical revelation, they tried to build on the foundation of human reason. Theologians that adopted this concept believed that “Western civilization was establishing Christ's earthly rule”. And they began to teach that Mankind was “improving” and through our human power and ingenuity we could establish a righteous world. (SIDE NOTE: We’ve left the “righteousness” part of that world equation behind, and now through our human power and ingenuity, we’re going to “improve” through transhumanism, including man merging with machine).
Those theologians also taught that as the Church, we should set good examples of Christian living, which would influence society and culture… we haven’t done a very good job of that if you look at our society today. And even though that idea was preached by the theologians of the day, the Church received no commission to politically reform the society by seeking God’s righteousness, and from the Roman Empire on, we have NOT seen the governments of the world conform to what Jesus said the Kingdom of God was: a structured, organized entity with the very authority of God behind it. And throughout the centuries, the Church has not preached that as a goal! Instead, church members heard from their leaders that they should hope and pray for God's Kingdom to come [in the future], while concentrating on the Salvation message.
That literal Kingdom on earth WILL COME and Jesus WILL be the Divine Ruler of His Kingdom on earth. In that sense the Kingdom of God is future and we look forward to our inheritance. BUT the Kingdom of God also refers to the King’s realm into which we may now enter to experience the blessings of His reign in our hearts. REMEMBER: the parable of the Sower is all about what is sown in our hearts; that’s the personal realm that Jesus concentrated on and wants to be King of.
So, in this earthly realm, it is perhaps easier to comprehend that the Kingdom of God exists in our hearts. Our spirits give us hints that He is there, and our souls (our minds, emotions and will) will show us He is real and there is evidence of Him --- IF WE SEEK THE KINGDOM OF GOD FIRST.
As for the literal establishment of God’s Kingdom at the return of Christ, God's timetable may differ from man's. God does not allow man to foresee the chronological details of His plan, but the outcome is certain. God will do what He has promised.
Finally, here is the really important concept I hope you will grasp ... After the true biblical teaching of the Kingdom of God was removed, the gospel message was changed from the message about the Kingdom to a message primarily about Jesus Christ. It would become a message that Christianity would triumph over its enemies in the world. And it was a message that faith in Jesus would yield eternal salvation ... both true, but these were not the "Good News" that Jesus had come to preach, nor the purpose for which He was sent. (Read the Scripture that follows). In other words, Christianity kept the name of Jesus Christ, but abandoned His message.
Part Two of this topic will take a look at what Jesus meant by the "secrets" or the "mysteries" of the Kingdom.
Luke 4:43 But He said, “I must preach [the good news of] the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because I was sent for this purpose.”