Parables of the kingdom

What is the kingdom of God? God's kingdom (sometimes referred to as the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of heaven, or simply 'the kingdom') is mentioned more than one hundred times in the New Testament, so it must be important to us.

A kingdom can be defined as a territory in which a king rules over his subjects. Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world (Joh 18:36), meaning it's not a physical kingdom with geographical boundaries, as normal kingdoms are.

Neither is it a kingdom that can be seen with the human eye so that someone could say: 'Here is the kingdom of God.' God's kingdom is invisible to those in the world, because the kingdom of God is within (Greek: inside) us (Luk 17:20–21).

Jesus said that no one can see (perceive, understand) the kingdom of God unless they are born again (Joh 3:3). And no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit (Joh 3:5). Water, in this context, refers to the Word of God (1Pe 1:23).

Jesus' kingdom is a spiritual kingdom where he reigns in the hearts of his subjects. His kingdom consists of everyone who has surrendered themselves to him and made him King and Lord of their lives.

Parable of the Growing Seed

In Mar 4, Jesus gave three parables to help us understand the kingdom of God: the Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Growing Seed and the Parable of the Mustard Seed.

He also said, 'This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces corn—first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.' (Mar 4:26–29)

'This is what the kingdom of God is like,' said Jesus. 'It's like a seed that grows.' The Parable of the Sower shows that the human heart can aid, or hinder, a Christian's spiritual growth (Luk 8:11–15), whereas the Parable of the Growing Seed shows the part God plays in a Christian's spiritual growth.

In the Parable of the Sower the seed is the Word of God (Luk 8:11), the farmers who sow it are God's servants (Luk 8:5), and the soil it falls on are human hearts (Luk 8:15). The Parable of the Sower focuses on the condition of the heart the seed falls on; the Parable of the Growing Seed focuses on the life and power the seed contains.

The living Word

You will notice that in both parables it's mankind who does the sowing. When we give the gospel to someone, hand out tracts in the street (or publish studies on websites), we are sowing the seed of the Word of God.

When a farmer scatters his seed he doesn't see where each seed falls, but as long as the seed falls on suitable soil it begins to grow. That happens because the seed is alive. The same is true with the Word of God. If someone receives the Word into their heart it will begin to grow. That happens because of the divine life the Word contains.

The Bible says that the Word of God is living and active (Heb 4:12); it's the living Word of the living God. God's Word is alive; the Bible we read is alive. Because God's Word comes from God it's charged with his life and power and has the ability to change lives.

With our help

Even though God and his Word have the ability to change lives unaided, he still uses mankind to help him in his work.

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1Co 3:5–7)

Paul summed up the situation. He said that he planted the seed (the Word of God), Apollos watered it (with his prayers), but it was God who made it grow. So God is the all-important one because, without him, spiritual growth cannot take place.

Harvest of the earth

When a farmer sows his seed, he does so with the intention of reaping a harvest. The same is true with God.

Jesus began to sow the seed of the Word of God (the good news of the kingdom) into the hearts of people two thousand years ago, and his Church has continued to sow that seed ever since. And the Bible says that one day, in God's appointed time, the earth will be harvested.

I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one 'like a son of man' with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, 'Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.' So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested. (Rev 14:14–16)

This passage in Revelation tells us that the one who will do the harvesting will be like 'a son of man'. That was one of our Lord's titles: Jesus frequently referred to himself as 'the Son of Man' (Luk 22:47–48).

The crown of gold on his head indicates that he is both King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus, who was the first to sow the seeds of the kingdom of God on earth, will one day return to harvest it. But how will it be harvested?

According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord for ever. (1Th 4:15–17)

The Bible teaches that when Jesus returns all those who have died in Christ, throughout the ages, will be caught up to meet him in the air. Then all believers who are still alive at that time will also be taken to meet him in the air.

This is known as the Rapture. In a flash of time, in the twinkling of an eye (1Co 15:52), all who belong to the Lord will be harvested from the earth. And at the same moment they'll each receive resurrection bodies (1Co 15:35–55).

Parable of the Mustard Seed

Again he said, 'What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.' (Mar 4:30–32)

Both this and the previous parable use the illustration of growing seeds to describe the kingdom of God. The Parable of the Growing Seed shows how God causes his kingdom to grow; the Parable of the Mustard Seed describes the extent to which it will grow.

In biblical times a mustard seed was the smallest seed people planted and yet, given the right conditions, a mustard plant in that part of the world could grow to the size of a small tree.

Similarly, from the smallest of beginnings—one man (Jesus) preaching the good news of the kingdom—the kingdom of God will grow to become the greatest kingdom the world has ever seen. The prophet Daniel foresaw this in the Old Testament.

In Dan 2 Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had a dream. His dream was of an enormous statue which had a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron and feet partly of iron and partly of clay. Daniel prayed to God and was given the meaning of the dream.

The statue represented four human kingdoms that would rule over the earth. As Nebuchadnezzar looked at the statue a rock was cut out, but not by human hands (meaning it was fashioned by God).

The rock struck the statue on the feet and smashed them. The statue then crumbled and was swept away. After that, the rock that had struck the statue became a huge mountain that filled the earth (Dan 2:31–35).

Daniel gave the meaning of the conclusion of the dream:

'In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure for ever.' (Dan 2:44)

Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world—meaning it's an invisible kingdom; a spiritual kingdom. But one day our Lord will return and set up a physical kingdom that will rule over the whole earth.

That kingdom will last for a thousand years (Rev 20:1–10), after which will come the final judgement (Rev 20:11–15), and then the creation of a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1), the home of righteousness (2Pe 3:13).

Other parables

With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything. (Mar 4:33–34)

Not every parable Jesus spoke has been recorded in the Gospels, but we can be sure that every parable we need has been recorded for us.

Jesus spoke these parables, not just to his own disciples, but to a large crowd of people that had gathered by the lake (Mar 4:1). Mark says that he spoke the parables to the people 'as much as they could understand'.

However, Mar 4:9–12 tells us why he spoke in parables. Jesus spoke in parables not to help the people understand what he was saying, but to prevent them from understanding what he was saying.

'The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you,' he told his disciples, 'but not to those on the outside. To those on the outside everything is said in parables, so that they will be ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven.'

Only the Holy Spirit can give a person understanding of the Word of God; they cannot understand it with their natural mind (1Co 2:14).

The people would have understood the concept of a seed growing and how a mustard seed becomes the largest of garden plants, but they wouldn't have understood the spiritual lessons our Lord was teaching. That is why he took his disciples aside afterwards and explained everything to them.

Before his crucifixion, Jesus said to his disciples:

'I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.' (Joh 16:12–14)

Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would bring glory to him by taking what was his and making it known to us. Let us thank God today for his Spirit, who alone can guide us into all truth.

Michael Graham
March 2006

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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