The Kingdom Parables - I
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like . . .’ (Matthew 13:24-50).
In the thirteenth chapter of the book of Matthew, Jesus speaks forth three of the seven parables related to the ‘kingdom of heaven.’ In this chapter, Jesus explains the meaning of two of the seven to his disciples. The four remaining ‘mysteries of the kingdom’ are left for us to unravel by the Word and Spirit of God. It is my belief that most Christians have failed to arrive at a correct understanding of the parables. I recently had a conversation with a pastor friend of mine concerning these verses. This man has been in the ministry nearly thirty years and is a diligent student of the Scriptures, yet he had never heard or read any other interpretation of these passages than that which is ‘traditionally’ taught. In the following lines I would like to present a different understanding for your consideration.
It should first be noted that Jesus had just come from an encounter with the Pharisees who accused His disciples of violating the law because they ‘were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. . . upon the sabbath day.’ Jesus responded to this accusation by restoring the withered hand of one man and casting a devil out of another! The Pharisees condemned His actions as a violation of the sabbath and accused Him of casting out devils ‘by Beelzebub (or Satan) the chief of devils.’ The following day, with these memories still fresh in His mind, Jesus delivered the parables of the kingdom, each of which speak of some aspect of Satan’s hindrance of the gospel message or work. In the parable of the wheat and tares we see the introduction of false believers. In the parable of the mustard seed we see the ‘unnatural’ growth of a religious system that allows Satan a ‘foot-hold’ in the church. In the parable of the leavened loaves we see the introduction of false doctrine.
The parable of the sower is explained for us. Little needs to be said except to note how few of the sown seeds actually find good soil in which to germinate.
The second kingdom parable, which is the first of a series of three, is also explained for us. Here we see good seed sown and growing but the enemy has interspersed among the wheat the ‘children of the wicked one;’ the fruitless tares. Three things should be noted. First, the seed is not the Word of God. It is ‘the sons of the kingdom,’ the saints of God. The tares are not false doctrine. They are ‘the sons of the evil one.’ Thirdly, this evil act was accomplished because the Master’s servants ‘slept.’ Though it is God who will ultimately separate the wheat from the tares it is not difficult to see that some of this process of ‘bundling’ is already in progress!
This parable is followed by the illustration of the mustard seed. The Greek sinapi, ‘sharp or biting,’ from which the word ‘mustard’ is derived, is an excellent description of the effect of the kingdom and the gospel message upon the world. That this large plant should spring forth from a single, tiny seed demonstrates the potential of the gospel to affect the world. Jesus describes the plant as a ‘tree.’ Throughout the Scriptures we see the tree as illustrating something that has become a worldly or political power. In the fourth chapter of Daniel we find a description of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom: ‘The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth: The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it.’ The seventeenth chapter of Ezekiel contains a similar example. Jesus also makes reference to the ‘birds of the air (that) come and lodge in the branches thereof.’ These ‘fowls of the air’ are a picture of Satan and his evil workers who have found a lodging place in the church. Jesus explained this type in the parable of the sower: ‘When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which is sown in his heart.’ This illustration is found often in the Scripture. Another example would be the fowls of the air that descended upon Abraham’s sacrifice and had to be driven away. The fledgling church which had been persecuted so mercilessly through the first two centuries of its existence was suddenly elevated to a stature of prominence under the Roman Emperor Constantine. From that time on the church was thrust into a place of worldly and political power which has corrupted her pure message. It is not difficult for anyone with ‘spiritual eyes’ to see that Satan has truly found a lodging place amongst her branches.
The parable of the woman with the leaven is given to show us the insidious nature of the false doctrine that has crept into the church. Without exception, everywhere that leaven is presented in the scripture it typifies falsehood or sin. To the Jewish hearer, there was no question as to the meaning of leaven in this parable. The Jews were commanded to remove leaven from their homes in preparation for the Passover. The majority of their offerings (except those that represented themselves) were to be free from leaven. Jesus used the figure of leaven to describe the hypocrisy and worldliness of the Pharisees. Paul used the defiling, corrupting nature of leaven in many of his illustrations. Leaven is not used in this parable to show the growth of the kingdom. It testifies to the corrupt doctrine that has found its way into the church and to the worldly, compromised lives of those who call themselves the people of God. It is my own personal belief that the greatest ‘corruption’ to find its way into the church is the doctrine and practice of the distinction between clergy and laity. I believe that this doctrine is the Nicholaitan error that Jesus condemned in the Revelation letters to the churches. It found its foot-hold under Constantine and has grown in strength through the centuries. This doctrine undermines and emasculates the ‘priesthood of believers’ which is a fundamental principle of the new covenant.
So, we see that Jesus is not testifying to the great successes of the church in these parables but is warning us against the dangers that will take root in the church. In the visible church there will be false brethren, there will be a political and organizational system which will allow Satan to work, and there will be false doctrine that will weaken the spiritual power and authority of the church and promote a carnal, worldly way of life.
Satan has been given his space of time to accomplish what he may. But in the end, our King will come and take back all that Satan has usurped and will take unto Himself his glorious bride who has kept herself pure and holy, without spot or blemish, for Him.