Preaching of the King –Part 8
Matthew 13 contains the prophetic parables of Jesus. For almost fourteen centuries, as "Church-history" clearly shows, prophecy was neglected. Those known as the "Church fathers," with only one or two exceptions devoted their time debating doctrines and the ordinances; while prophecy was ignored. In view of 2 Peter 1:19 and the general neglect of prophecy for fourteen hundred years, those centuries have appropriately been called “The Dark Ages"—dark because the light from the lamp of prophecy did not illumine them.
The Reformer’s focus was on preaching the Gospel to a people who were utterly ignorant of it, translating the Scriptures into their own mother-tongues, and expounding the great fundamentals of the Christian faith. So busily occupied were they in those good works, they had little or no time to give to the real study of prophecy itself. As a matter of fact, practically all that the Reformers saw in the prophetical portions of Scripture was the foretold judgment of God upon the satanic system of the Papacy, out of which they had been mercifully delivered.
Those who have any knowledge at all of human nature can readily understand how it would be with men who had been cradled in Romanism and who later had, by the grace of God, been enabled to see its blasphemous errors. When they came to the prophecies of Scripture, their thinking was colored by Romanism, and consequently when they met with an object which was the predicted subject of God’s judgment, they viewed it through colored glasses. "Babylon’’ was the Papacy; the "Man of Sin" was the Pope; the "Beast" was Rome, and so on. The sad thing is that most of those who have followed the Reformers, instead of studying the prophecies of God’s Word for themselves, have done little more than echo what the Reformers before them said. In consequence, little or no advance has been made, and God’s people today have very little more light upon prophecy than had their forefathers of three hundred years ago. Although it is generally denied or ignored all Christians should give at least part of the time they spend in reading the Scriptures to studying its predictions.
It is impossible to understand God’s prophetic program and the events occurring in the world and Christianity if the parables of Matthew 13 are ignored. In this present age as in the past the parables of Jesus recorded in Matthew 13 are misunderstood and misinterpreted by the majority of the Christian community and Satan is using this against them.
In Matthew 13:11 the Lord Jesus has designated these seven parables "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven." This expression "the kingdom of heaven" is used to introduce each of the last six parables. What is meant by this expression? There is perhaps no term in Scripture used so extensively, but which is so little understood. Though it is found in Matthew’s Gospel only, yet it is used no less than thirty-two times. The interpretation of this expression affects a great deal of Scripture, and a correct definition of it supplies the first key to the understanding of Matthew 13; for it should be obvious to all that none can begin to understand its seven parables until they have obtained a right definition of that term.
There is a great deal of confusion and of misunderstanding concerning the scriptural meaning of this expression, "the kingdom of heaven." There are some who think that it refers to Heaven itself. There are others believe it refers to the Church of which Christ is the Head. But there is one scripture in the New Testament which conclusively refutes both of these definitions. In Matthew 16:19 we find Jesus saying to Peter, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven." Jesus didn’t give Peter the keys of the Church or the keys of Heaven itself. What did Jesus give Peter? How would you explain what Jesus meant when He told Peter “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven"? Could you give a simple and satisfactory explanation of this verse? A great majority of Christians, including most of their leaders and teachers are not able to give a correct explanation of the "the kingdom of heaven" that they encounter so much in Matthew’s Gospel.
Before we can give a satisfactory explanation of the subject of "the kingdom of heaven" we need to first examine the expression "the kingdom of God," and in considering this we must begin where Scripture begins, and that is in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament there are two aspects of the expression, “the kingdom of God.” The first refers to the unlimited kingdom of God, namely the sovereign rule of the Most High over all His vast dominions. This aspect is referred to in Daniel 4:34-35. This rule of God over all His creatures is universal, absolute, and eternal. In the Old Testament there is also to the limited kingdom which is restricted both in its scope and time, which is neither eternal nor universal.
The second aspect is God’s kingdom on earth. It was first established among the children of Israel, when the Lord Himself was in their midst, when He made the mercy seat upon the ark His throne and dwelt between the cherubim. That was God’s "kingdom" on earth. Joshua 3:11, 13 takes us back to a point not long after Jehovah took up His dwelling in Israel’s midst we find the first time Jehovah assumed the title “the Lord of all the earth and it was connected with the ark, and was assumed on the occasion of Israel’s passing through the Jordan: it was Jehovah formally taking possession of that land which He had given to His people. Had Israel remained in subjection to their King and obeyed His laws, not only would He have continued in their midst, but through them He would have governed the whole earth—as He will yet do in the Millennium. Proof of this is found in the fact that during the brief times they remained obedient; He overthrew their enemies and subdued the surrounding Gentiles.
But Israel was disobedient and rebelled against Jehovah their King. "The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (1 Samuel. 8:7). For centuries after this the long sufferance of God continued to bear with them, but in the days of Ezekiel the Shekinah-glory, God’s manifested presence in their midst, departed. This is referred to in Ezekiel 10:18, "Then the glory of the Lord departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim;" and Ezekiel 11:23, "The glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood over the mountain which is on the east side of the city." First the Shekinah-glory left the ark in the holy place then gradually receding, it left the temple, then going farther away it stood over the Mount of Olives, until it vanished from their sight. God had forsaken His earthly throne and dwelling-place.
In 2 Chronicles 36:23 we read, "Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia, the Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth." In the opening verses of Ezra we are told that this same Cyrus made a proclamation saying, “The Lord God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah" (Ezra 1:2). These are the first occurrences of this Divine title in Scripture. It is no mere casual expression, but the employment of it marked a great crisis and denoted a radical change in God’s dealings with the earth. It is a characteristic title of God. It emphasized the fact that, while His eternal throne can never be given up, God’s earthly throne has for a time been forsaken.
In the stead of His visible throne in Israel’s midst, God set up another throne upon earth, a throne which He delegated to men, and which was to continue throughout the times of the Gentiles—an expression which concerns the interval during which the Gentiles have dominion over Jerusalem. This is the theme and subject which is developed in the book of Daniel. In its second chapter, where we have recorded Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and the Divine interpretation we find that the prophetic significance of the great image, an outline of the history of the times of the Gentiles and the character of their rule over this earth.
The prophetic dream of Nebuchadnezzar looked forward not only to the end of the Gentile world-empires, but also beyond them, contemplating another and a future empire which would be totally different in character. In verse 44 we are told, "And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and that kingdom will not be left for another people, it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever." This is the promised kingdom of Messiah. Further details concerning it are given in Daniel 7:13, 14.
After Daniel, the voice of prophecy was soon silenced, and for four hundred years the people of Israel remained in a state of eager expectation, waiting for God to fulfill His promises. John the Baptist took up the kingdom message where the Old Testament prophets left it. In Matthew 3:1, 2 we read, "In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, it was "at hand," because the King Himself was about to appear in the midst of the Jews. When John said, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” what do you suppose his Jewish hearers understood by that expression? They had the whole of the Old Testament but that is all they had. Obviously, all their thoughts would naturally turn to that kingdom which the Son of Man was to receive in heaven at the hands of the Ancient of days.
In the wilderness of Judea explains the sad condition of God’s city and house. John appeared outside the temple, away from Jerusalem. And his message, "Repent," bore witness to Israel’s sad spiritual condition. It is not necessary to call people to repent if they are walking in communion with God. "Repent” was a word for those who were away from God and the King Himself once more was drawing near to Israel on earth. He who had of old vacated His earthly throne and who had in the days of Ezekiel retired to heaven, and who from that time onwards became known as "The Lord God of heaven," had in matchless grace incarnated Himself in human form, and because He was now once more upon earth, because the King Himself was present in Israel’s midst, the Kingdom was "at hand." Therefore, we are told in Matthew 4:17, "From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Both the "signs" (Matthew 11:4; 16:3) and the "powers" (Heb. 2:3; 6:5) of the kingdom, the Messianic, earthly one, were displayed by Christ. Humanly speaking, everything was ready for the establishment of that which had been promised by Daniel. Nothing was wanting but loyal hearts to welcome and receive the Divine-King. But, this was lacking: "He came to His own, and His own didn’t receive Him” (John 1:11).
The steps of the Messiah’s rejection are traced in Matthew 12. Because Israel rejected their King, He temporarily rejected them, and therefore the setting up of His Messianic kingdom on this earth was postponed. The King would depart from this world and be absent for a lengthy season, before He returns again and sets up His kingdom. In the interval of His absence the "kingdom" takes another form. It is now His kingdom among the Gentiles, and is found wherever His authority if publicly owned; it is the sphere of Christian profession.