The Gospel in the Prophets

“At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it…” – Jeremiah 3:17

  1. Israel’s rebellion from God leads them to desire a king like the nations of the world. How did this go against God’s original plan for them?
    • 1 Samuel 8:6-9
  1. God promises to re-establish his Kingdom through the lineage of Israel’s second king, King David (2 Samuel 7:8-16). But their overall rejection of God continues. Despite their rebellion, God never gives up on them for his overall mission to the rest of the world (1 Kings 3:6,8:56).
    • How does the vivid example given in Hosea 3:1-5 reflect God’s position with Israel?
    • What is Israel doing or not doing that makes God so angry?
      • Hosea 6:1-6
      • Isaiah 1:11-16
      • Isaiah 10:1-4
      • Jeremiah 2:29-37
  1. Ultimately, Israel’s unfaithfulness gave God no choice but to follow his own covenant and send Israel into exile, but he did it in a way to restore them and not undo the promise to bring a king through David. (2 Kings 17, 25)
    • Jeremiah 3:6-18
    • Isaiah 55:1-5
    • Isaiah 56:1-8 
  1. Why did the exiled people need continuous reminders from the Prophets?
  1. What role did the promise of a Messiah play in sustaining the Israelite community during exile?
    • Genesis 3:15
    • 2 Samuel 7:10-13
    • Isaiah 9:6-7
  1. God didn’t only send the Prophets to the people of Israel, but he sent them to all the kingdoms of the world around Israel, including the nations that God would eventually use to punish Israel like Assyria, Babylon, and Persia. How does this present God’s vision for his Kingdom?
    • 1 Kings 10:1-9
    • Jonah 3:4-10
    • Daniel 4:28-37
    • Esther 10:1-3
  1. What was John the Baptist’s role as the last prophet of the old covenant (Luke 16:16)?
    • John 1:19-34
    • Matthew 3:1-17
    • Luke 7:28-30
  1. The kingdom of Israel pointed forward to the coming of God’s eternal kingdom. What the prophets foretold has come about: God’s Kingdom is here! That day has come! How is the good news even bigger than most Jews realized in Jesus’ day? Who ended up being the subject of the promises?
    • Ephesians 3:1-6
    • Galatians 3:13-14
    • Isaiah 60:1-3
  1. While God’s Kingdom has deep roots with the kingdom of Israel, the scope and blessing of God’s Kingdom was always meant to go beyond any national border (Isaiah 2:2, 49:6). The promise of the Kingdom inheritance is not restricted to a national border or an ethnicity (Galatians 3:28-29). There is good news for the poor, liberty to the captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19). That’s the gospel of God’s Kingdom! And that’s the gospel Jesus proclaimed (Luke 4:43).

(Click here for referenced Scripture printout.)

The Gospel in Torah

“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2-3

  1. After the fall of Adam and Eve and the fall at the Tower of Babel, God chose Abram (Abraham) to be the father of a special nation (Genesis 12:1-3,22:15-18)
    • What do you notice about the blessing in these passages? Who receives blessing?
  1. Basic history: Abraham’s grandson Jacob is later renamed “Israel” by God (Genesis 32:28). One of Jacob’s 12 sons is sold into slavery, but eventually God establishes him as high-ranking official in Egypt. During a famine, Jacob’s family journeys to Egypt (with 70 people—see lesson #3) where Joseph ensures they are cared for. After over 400 years, a new Pharoah is in power, and the descendants of Jacob are no longer respected. They are subjected to harsh slave labor (Exodus 1:8-14). God raises up Moses as a deliverer. After many plagues, the Pharoah lets Moses’ people go, only to change his mind and pursue the fleeing people. God delivers the Hebrews through the waters of the Red Sea and crushes the Egyptians when they dare follow (Exodus 14:10-31).
    • God delivered his people out of this nation, a system of the world, and brought them into a nation of his own.
  1. He then gives them the Law, which totals over 600 different commands. However, it is not meant as a list of “dos or don’ts,” but rather a way of living that would be his shining example of his Kingdom to the world.
    • What do you think the world would look like if God’s reign was recognized by all?
      • Leviticus 19:9-18
      • Deut 15:1-11
      • Deut 16:18-20
    • How does this communicate the Kingdom of God?
      • Exodus 19:3-6
      • Leviticus 19:2
      • Deut 4:1-9
      • Numbers 24:1-9
    • Was the vision of God’s Kingdom meant to only impact Ancient Israel?
      • Leviticus 19:33-34
      • Exodus 12:38,48-49 (Numbers 9:14)
      • Numbers 14:21
    • How do the commandments ultimately point to Jesus?
      • Hebrews 9:11-28
  1. Israel’s relationship with God is a constant roller coaster of obedience and utter failure, but God was continuously faithful to his covenant promises. Why do you think God exercised such gracious and steadfast love for such a “stiff-necked” people (Exodus 33:3)? What encouragement does that give us today?
    • Exodus 34:6-7
    • Joshua 21:44-45
  1. Don’t miss what the Pharisees missed. Jesus summed up the heart of the Law with Matthew 22:37-40 – “And He said to him, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” God doesn’t get mad at the Israelites for wearing a polyester blend or lighting a candle on the Sabbath. Rather, he gets mad at them when they aren’t loving God, when they aren’t loving their neighbors, and when they are being greedy, cruel, or unfair.
    • God’s laws in the Torah for his people were meant to bring them to an understanding of his love, grace and mercy. They were a shadow of the life to come under Christ the King—the ultimate sacrificial lamb who is seated at the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:1-12).

(Click here for referenced Scripture printout.)

The Gospel at the End

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” – Matthew 24:14

  1. What are the aspects of the Kingdom we’re still waiting for?
    • Return
      • Philippians 3:20-21 – Citizens of his Kingdom now but waiting for the return of the King.
      • James 5:7
      • 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
      • Acts 1:9-11
    • Restoration
      • Acts 3:18-21
      • Romans 8:18-25
      • Deuteronomy 30:3
      • Isaiah 65:17-25
    • Re-inheriting of the nations
      • Deuteronomy 32:8-9 (see Gen 10:1-32, 11:9; Deut 4:19-20; Luke 10:1-20; Acts 2:1-13)
      • Psalm 82:8
      • Revelation 7:9-10; 22:1-5
      • Micah 4:1-7
      • Jeremiah 48:47 – Restoration is promised even for the Gentiles
    • Resurrection
      • 1 Corinthians 6:14
      • 1 Corinthians 15:12-23,47-58
      • Philippians 3:11-12,20-21
      • Acts 24:15
      • 1 Peter 1:3-5
      • Isaiah 26:19
    • Retribution
      • Genesis 3:15 – The end was proclaimed at the beginning!
      • Matthew 13:30,41-43,49-50
      • Psalm 82:1-8
      • 1 Corinthians 15:24-28
      • Daniel 12:2
  1. How does the Bible use creation language to point to the Kingdom coming in its fullness?
    • 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 – Old creation has died; New creation has come.
    • Isaiah 43:18-19; 65:17
    • John 11:25-26
    • Ephesians 4:22-24
    • 2 Peter 3:13
    • Revelation 21:1-5; 22:1-5
  1. What does the Bible say about the Kingdom of God’s permanence and status over the kingdoms of the world?
    • Daniel 2:31-45; 7:14
    • Isaiah 9:6-7
    • 1 Corinthians 15:24-28
    • Revelation 11:15
  1. There are aspects of the Kingdom in its fullness we are eagerly waiting for, but we can still enjoy the blessings of the Kingdom now! Jesus’ Spirit lives within us (Romans 8:10-11). We spread God’s goodness through our community of believers to each other and those outside (Matthew 5:13-16, Galatians 6:10, 1 Peter 2:9-12). We have been raised with Christ and are seated with him in his Kingdom (Colossians 3:1-4, Ephesians 2:6, Philippians 3:20). We can rest in his eternal rule (Matthew 11:28).

(Click here for referenced Scripture printout.)

The Gospel in the Beginning

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion…’” – Genesis 1:26

  1. How does the Creation narrative in Genesis 1:1-2:3 frame the Kingdom of God?
    • Throughout the ancient world, the temple was a significant part of the cosmic landscape. It was considered to be at the center of the cosmos, the place from which the cosmos was controlled, and a small model of the cosmos—a microcosm” (Walton, J. H. (2011). Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology)
      • Could the creation narrative be a way of talking about God inaugurating the world as his temple?
        • Isaiah 66:1
        • Psalm 132:7-8
        • 1 Kings 8:62-9:3 (The inauguration of the Temple was a 7-day process, after it took Solomon seven years to build it (1 Kings 6:38))
      • What does “rest” mean in Genesis 2:2-3? What does a “god” typically do in a temple?
        • They reign and rule from their throne
        • This part of the narrative isn’t a footnote, it’s the climax! God has taken his place as an engaged ruler on his throne over his newly ordered system.
          • Who does he expect to be working with him to continue to maintain this order?
            • Genesis 1:26-31
            • 1 Corinthians 3:9
            • Jesus reflects on this in Matthew 11:28-30
  1. How does the Garden of Eden reflect God’s Kingdom?
    • A connection between the heavenly realm and the earthly realm (Genesis 3:8-9), which is also reflected in the Tabernacle and Temple.
    • The Tree of Life (Genesis 2:8-9)
      • God invited Adam and Eve to live by his life, but they chose to go their own way (Genesis 3:6-7). God then sends them out of the Garden and blocks them from access to the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:22-24).
      • When Jesus comes, he is the return of the Tree of Life. Following him means coming back into God’s Kingdom rule.
        • John 6:53-58,19:41,20:15
        • Revelation 2:7,22:2
    • https://bibleproject.com/articles/were-adam-and-eve-priests-eden/
  1. What was God’s purpose for Adam and Eve before they sinned?
    • What does “work and keep” mean in Genesis 2:15?
      • These two verbs ‘abad (עבד) and shamar (שמר) are used together as a phrase to refer to the priestly roles of the Levites who serve God in the temple and who guard the temple (Numbers 3:7-8; 8:25-26; 18:5-6; 1 Chronicles 23:32; Ezekiel 44:14).
    • As God’s priestly representatives, Adam and Eve were to be mediators between God and others—relating with God on behalf of other people and reflecting his character to others. Like all people, they were called to be his image-bearers, his representatives, and exercise rule over the creation (Genesis 1:26-28).
  1. God’s plan for his Kingdom has existed from the very beginning. Adam and Eve were created to keep and guard God’s dwelling place and represent his Kingdom to the world. When sin interrupted their mission, they were removed from this role. Salvation will be needed to deliver them back to his presence. In the same way for us, salvation is a deliverance back to living under God’s rule and reign so that we can represent him as his image, working and keeping his Garden, his Kingdom.
    • Romans 12:1-2 – We worship God by being who he made us to be—His Image! That’s how we keep from taking his name in vain (Exodus 20:7).

(Click here for referenced Scripture printout.)

Introduction: What is the Gospel?

(We’re starting a new study on the Good News of God’s Kingdom. Join us!)

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” – Isaiah 52:7

“The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.” – Psalm 103:19

  1. What has the term “gospel” meant to you?
  1. Word Study – The English terms “good news” or “gospel” come from these words in the original texts:
    • https://bibleproject.com/explore/video/euangelion-gospel/
    • Hebrew Old Testament – bśr (verb), bĕśōrâ (noun) (Royal announcement)
      • 2 Samuel 18:19-31
      • 1 Kings 1:38-48 (especially vs. 42)
      • Isaiah 52:7
    • Greek New Testament – euangelizō (verb), euangelion (noun) (Good/eu – Announcement/angelion)
      • Luke 3:1-20 – What is the significance of vs 9 specifically? What is about to be cut down?
      • Matthew 4:23
      • Mark 1:14-15
    • What was the “good news” centered around in those Old Testament passages?
    • What was the “good news” centered around in those New Testament passages?
  1. The word “Kingdom” (in relation to the Kingdom of God) is mentioned in the New Testament 139 times! In contrast, “Resurrection” (which we know is a critical concept to the Christian faith!) is only mentioned 42 times.
    • Has this Kingdom already arrived? Are there aspects of the Kingdom that have not yet arrived?
      • Mark 1:14-15
      • Ephesians 2:6
      • Colossians 1:12-13
      • Matthew 25:31-34
      • 1 Corinthians 4:16-20
      • 1 Corinthians 15:24
      • Hebrews 2:8-9
      • Luke 4:17-21 – The Lord’s favor is “already,” his vengeance is “not yet.”
  1. How does the whole Bible story shape what that “good news” entails?
    • Genesis 1:31
    • Genesis 12:2-3
    • 2 Samuel 7:12-13
    • Daniel 2:44
    • Luke 4:18-21
    • Matthew 24:14
    • Romans 8:18-25
    • 1 Corinthians 15:20-28
    • Revelation 11:15
    • Revelation 19:16
    • Revelation 21:1-4
  1. What is the believer’s role in spreading this “good news” of God’s Kingdom?
    • Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15
    • Acts 1:8
    • 2 Corinthians 5:16-20
  1. The “Good News” has always centered around God’s desire to establish his Kingdom with his followers. He wanted to co-rule with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He wanted to display his Kingdom to the nations through Israel. Now he wants to display his Kingdom through the Church. The King has come, and he brought the new Kingdom with him. He didn’t come just to be a “personal savior.” He came to take his rightful place as King of kings and Lord of lords. Are we proclaiming that good news? Do we believe it? (Matthew 6:33)

(Click here for referenced Scripture printout.)

A Different Spirit

I’m not an adrenaline junkie. I don’t like heights. I don’t do roller coasters. You won’t find me diving into a pool, much less a cave or the sky! I like calm, steady, uneventful, and predictable. My instinct in a public area is to blend in with the walls and go unnoticed. But what happens when God puts a challenge in front of you? Unfortunately, I have no doubt I’ve completely ignored many of those challenges because of my natural proclivities (read: fear).

In a recent study through the book of Numbers (more appropriately named “In the Wilderness” in Hebrew), my church came across a powerful phrase regarding Caleb’s faith:

“But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.” – Numbers 14:24

The Israelites had been delivered by God from slavery in Egypt. They witnessed beyond amazing events of God directly interceding on their behalf—parting of the sea, pillars of clouds and fire, miracle bread and quail. He promised them a land. All they had to do was go in and possess it. As we read in Numbers 13-14, twelve spies are sent in ahead of the people.

Ten spies return with a hopeless report. The land is indeed beautiful and full of choice fruits, but it is populated by powerful people with large, fortified cities. They equate themselves as grasshoppers compared to the natives, who apparently are of a special group called the Nephilim (see Gen 6:1-4).

If I’m spying this out, I must admit that my first reaction would be to quickly and quietly run away! What if I knew, despite the seemingly insurmountable odds, God promised he would deliver me? Were the spies unaware of this promise? What seems ambiguous in Numbers is clarified in Deuteronomy 1:19-33. Verses 20-21 specifically record what Moses told the people regarding the Lord’s promise: “And I said to you, ‘You have come to the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. See, the Lord your God has set the land before you. Go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has told you. Do not fear or be dismayed.’”

They knew. They knew it was promised to them. But fear is a powerful thing from the Enemy. And the fear from the ten spies trickled down to the whole population who thought they’d be better off selecting a new leader and returning to slavery in Egypt! (Numbers 14:4)

Caleb and Joshua were different. It didn’t matter that the cities were well-fortified. It didn’t even matter that the people were Nephilim! Caleb and Joshua rested in God’s strength and not their own. They rested in God’s promises and not their own abilities.

In an effort to bring the people back to their senses, Joshua says in Numbers 14:7-9: “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

The people’s response to this rally cry? They get ready to stone them! (Numbers 14:10)

After just this latest rebellion, God determines it might be better to start from scratch! (Numbers 14:12) But Moses intercedes for the people and God pardons them once again, but not without consequence. The rebels won’t be entering this promised land but will instead wander the desert for 40 years.

Caleb and Joshua displayed immeasurable faith in their God in the face of ridicule from their entire nation. How discouraging it must have been for them to have to wander in the desert for 40 years with this faithless group of people. After seeing and tasting the fullness of God, they must wander with people who completely rejected the truth and the power of the Lord.

But 45 years later, in Joshua 14:10-12, we get to see where Caleb’s faith is: “I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then…” He didn’t waiver. He didn’t get pulled down by the doubt and rebellion of the Israelites even after having to wander for 40 years with them. He truly had a “different spirit.”

May we have the faith of Caleb and Joshua to face giants. May we have the faith of Noah to build a boat in the middle of a desert. May we have the faith of Abram to leave the known for the unknown. May we have the faith of Joseph who never gave up despite always finding himself in a “pit.”

Don’t be afraid to take a leap when God puts a challenge before you. Don’t let your natural tendencies impede your spiritual realities. Don’t let your fear prevent you from following God fully.

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” – Hebrews 11:6 NIV

Be of a different spirit like Caleb. Follow him FULLY. He rewards a faith like that.

I’ll close with a prayer from my dear sister Amanda:

Dear Lord: Help us believe that ALL we need to do is stand STILL. Listen for you. Obey you. Honor you. Help us to remember that we do this to glorify you. Open our hearts to you Lord so we may see you and your works you want us to do more clearly. Forgive us from our daily distractions stealing our focus. Forgive us for forgetting to put you first. How often we forget that you have already gone before us. Through parting the Red Sea, wandering the desert, through work and play, through health and illness, through wealth and poverty, through home and highway. I pray we do not miss the gifts you want us to have this year because we refused to trust the hand that you offer us. So again Lord open our hearts and minds to hear your voice, recognize your call, and to faithfully follow where you lead. Oh God, thy will, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. Amen!

Emmanuel

It’s Christmas Eve. Churches everywhere have special services planned. Nativity scenes are all over the place. The spirit of the season is palpable. It’s a wonderful time of year! But what happens next week? What happens to love, joy, kindness, giving after we all get back to our daily routines after the holiday?

What is something from this season that you wish we were better at carrying with us throughout the whole year?

Mine is our focus on the presence of God and Christ right along side us all the time.

Matthew 1:23 and Isaiah 7:14 are very commonly quoted passages this time of year. 

And what an awesome gift it was. Jesus did not consider his throne in Heaven as something to be held on to. He voluntarily let it go to come live here with us. But his presence with us wasn’t temporary.

What did Jesus say before he ascended back to his throne in Heaven? Matthew 28:20b – “…And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

The namesake of this blog carries a similar message. “Maranatha” is found in 1 Corinthians 16:22. It carries a meaning of either a plea for our Lord to come, or as a declaration that our Lord has come.

Indeed he has come. And he is with us always. His presence is there. We don’t have to pretend, and we certainly shouldn’t forget, no matter the day of the year! And we eagerly await his return!

The Five Freedoms (of Animal Welfare??)

What is your typical response to the question “What do you do?” If you’re like me, the first thing that usually comes out of your mouth is your job. I’m working on training myself to respond with something along the lines of being a worker in God’s Kingdom. I want God to use me in my job and in every other aspect of my life to bring glory to him.

It is with that job in mind that I write this article. God has blessed me with a great job as a poultry veterinarian, following in my dad’s footsteps. It’s an opportunity that has brought me to a wonderful place and put me in contact with a ton of terrific people.

Just the other day, I was doing some “celebratory destruction” of an enormous pile of notes that I used to study for my recent board certification exam. It was something that consumed about five months of my life, robbed me of time with my family and of sleep, and caused me an increasing amount of stress and anxiety as test day approached.

<Side note> God has always been faithful to me. One of my struggles is worry—even though I know worrying does more harm than good and is in fact contrary to my faith. I know that he takes care of the sparrows, so of course he takes care of me. I know he wants me to cast my anxieties on him. I know that I should bring everything to him in prayer. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

But God brought me through, as he always has! And so I was blessed to celebrate! I always did better with reading paper notes, so I’d often print my notes out instead of reading them on the computer. That left me with quite a bit of papers to dispose of…

Wanting to send these things off with a bang, I started off with a little target practice. The stack was probably 10-12 inches or so. 9mm bullets only penetrated about 4-5 inches, but 5.56mm rounds went clean through!

Then I took them to the fire pit. The stack was too thick to burn at once, so I was taking them bit by bit to burn them. As I did that, I was offering a prayer of thanksgiving. I was thanking God for his provision, for bringing me through this stressful time, and for allowing this chapter of school and studying to close.  I prayed that he would use my job for his Kingdom and for his purposes. As I prayed that, he showed me that he was there…

I had been just haphazardly grabbing pages and tossing them in the fire, but at this point I happened to glance down and read the page that was currently on top. It was notes on the five basic tenets of animal welfare, known specifically as the “Five Freedoms.” I don’t believe in coincidences. This was a wink from a loving Father. Let me go through the Five Freedoms and show you what I mean.

FREEDOM FROM HUNGER AND THIRST.

  • Jesus promised this! We will not be hungry or thirsty with him.
  • Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. – John 6:35
  • “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” – John 6:54-58
  • “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” – Matthew 5:6

FREEDOM FROM DISCOMFORT.

  • No discomfort we face in this life is permanent. We are promised an eternal life perfected in Him.
  • So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
  • “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:10-12
  • Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

FREEDOM FROM PAIN, INJURY, AND DISEASE.

  • Similarly, no pain will last. No injury or disease will persist.
  • When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. – Isaiah 43:2
  • He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces… – Isaiah 25:8
  • And no inhabitant will say, “I am sick”; the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity. – Isaiah 33:24
  • Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. – 1 Corinthians 15:24-26
  • …In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality… – 1 Corinthians 15:50-58
  • He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:4

FREEDOM TO EXPRESS NORMAL BEHAVIOR.

  • In God’s Kingdom, we are allowed to live as we were truly created to live—humans perfectly reflecting his divine image!
  • His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. – 2 Peter 1:3-4
  • From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

FREEDOM FROM FEAR AND DISTRESS.

  • What do we have to fear when the Lord is with us? Absolutely nothing. Not even death.
  • “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9
  • …Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me… – Psalm 23
  • “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” – Matthew 10:28-31
  • “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
  • But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled… – 1 Peter 3:14

We have true freedom in Christ, eternal freedom. Come enjoy that freedom today!

A Kingdom of Mixture

Matthew 13 is a loaded chapter in the Gospels. It’s so full of rich parables that we often break them up into smaller pieces. That’s warranted and necessary at times, obviously. After all, the whole Bible is a unified story, but we can’t digest the fullness of the Bible in one sitting. However, if we only ever feed on disjointed fragments, and never bring those pieces together into a full picture, we end up not being able to see the forest for the trees. So, we’ll try to take a section of the trees in Matthew’s gospel and see what that part of the forest looks like.

First some ground rules: Read Matthew 13:1-52 before this article. Read it a few times. Then remember—context, context, context. Any study of the Bible requires an understanding of context. This involves understanding what all is being spoken as one continuous narrative, but also how that narrative fits into the greater story and the historical and cultural factors that influence the speakers/hearers. This will be a lengthy article, but to break it into sections would go against this very point! (Hah)

A general overview of Matthew 13’s context: Jesus is speaking to a crowd initially, but there are also places where he is teaching only his closest disciples. Jesus understands the dynamics of a crowd. You’ll always have a mixed audience. Some will be enthralled by the message, some will be indifferent, some will be enraged, and some aren’t even listening. A striking example of this is in John 6—right after Jesus feeds the five thousand, the crowd is offended by His claim that he is the true bread of life, and many turned away from him. Perhaps they were like the crowd in John 2:23-25, who really only followed Jesus to catch a glimpse of an exciting miracle. The crowd that gathers in Matthew 13 isn’t any different. With that in mind, and with the goal that we want to look at a full “episode” of teaching from Jesus instead of disjointed fragments, let’s examine a continuous episode from Matthew 13:1-52.

The Sower (Matthew 13:1-23)

This is one of the few parables in this section that Jesus provides an interpretation for. There is one sower (Christ), one seed (“the word of the kingdom”), and four different soils that the seed lands on. Only one of those four is soil that actually allows the seed to produce fruit. When the disciples ask Jesus privately to explain this parable, he confirms that not everyone who hears a message actually “hears” the message (“…seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Matthew 13:13). Let’s look at the mixture of different soil types that Jesus describes.

1) First there’s the path. The seed that is sown here is eaten up by the birds, who Jesus equates with the evil one. Ground that is trampled into a path is firm and compacted. It has been shaped over a long time and is not easily molded. We can easily see the metaphor for a hard heart and a stubborn mind. That seed isn’t sinking in, and it’s not going to germinate. If we reject the seed because of our hard hearts, it’s easy pickings for the enemy.

2) Then there’s the rocky ground. There’s more opportunity for the seed to get buried here—in fact, there may be a perfect crevice that the seed could fit through, receive some moisture, and germinate. Jesus said this is like people who eagerly receive a teaching, but they have no root. As soon as difficulty comes, that plant withers away. This is reminiscent of the John 6 example mentioned earlier.

3) The soil with thorns will allow that seed to grow for a time, but then the thorns, which represent “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches,” choke the life out of the plant so that no fruit is born.

4) The good soil is one who hears the word, understands it, lets it take root, and allows God to produce fruit.

The “word of the kingdom” is sown over a mixture of soil types and is taken up (or not) at varying degrees. The types of soil may represent the mixture of different individuals overall, but also, we may display a mix of all these soil types throughout our own lives. Maybe we have thorns we need to remove. What cares of the world are preventing you from bearing fruit for the Kingdom? Worrying about things that might happen or about things outside of your control? That anxiety is choking out the truth of God’s word. Even worry about good things! Parents, are you constantly worried about your children? Is that consuming your heart? (I know some of you need to hear that—anxiety is something I’m working on pulling out of my own soil…) Maybe we need a tiller to break up the ground of our own heart. What or who are you hardened toward? Maybe some rocks need to get thrown out. What area of your life is suffering from an inability to receive God’s word? May your heart become increasingly good soil as you walk with Christ and bear much fruit!

As we go through the rest of this narrative, keep this initial teaching in mind: There’s mixture in the kingdom of God. It will be purified in the end, but right now we deal with the good and the bad. It’s not a utopia—not yet. It seems strange to consider God’s Kingdom as something that contains flaws, doesn’t it? But even if we discount those that actively look to sabotage the Kingdom from within, we know that none of us are perfect. John Nugent puts it well in his book, Endangered Gospel: “God’s treasure was meant to be carried in clay jars (2 Corinthians 4:7). The weakness of the messenger does not negate the strength of the message. The reality is, there can be no such thing as a perfect church. A church that fulfills its responsibility attracts new people. When new people come, they bring all of their imperfections with them. So the church is constantly in the process of helping imperfect people who do not yet seek first God’s kingdom to begin seeking it first.”

Jesus continues this theme in the following short parables. Reading them within that context sheds a lot more light on what he was getting at.

The Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30,34-43)

In the parable of the weeds, Jesus shifts the image from one good type of seed falling on a mix of different soil types to a mixture of seeds being sown in a field: one for wheat and one for weeds (or tares). The servants are confused—why are their weeds in our perfectly sown field of wheat? Why is there a mixture of good and bad, fruitful and non-fruitful? Should we go ahead and try to clean out the bad? The master tells them an enemy has sown the weeds, but they must wait until the time of the harvest or else when gathering the weeds, they would root up the wheat as well.

Jesus privately explains the meaning of this parable to his disciples as he did with the parable of the sower. The Son of Man is the one who sows the good seed, the field is the “world,” the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. Seems pretty straight forward, but consider that the weeds are growing right alongside of the wheat. They aren’t subdivided in any way. Jesus explains that at the end of the age the angels “will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers and throw them into the fiery furnace.” What do we do with this? There are weeds in God’s Kingdom?

(Wheat, left. Walther Otto Müller, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Darnel, right. Winkler, Eduard., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Darnel is the type of weed that Jesus would have been referencing. As you can see in the image, it looks very similar to the wheat!

We must realize that we’re all weeds without Jesus. It’s his life within us that has transformed us from weeds to wheat. He didn’t make us wheat just so we can point out those who we think are not wheat. We should be people that are willing to live as wheat among weeds, with the hope that our witness to the one who transformed us would impact those around us.

What about the teachings we have on church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 5, for instance)? Isn’t that “identifying a weed?” I pondered on this question a lot and sought some insight from several folks I trust. To quote John Nugent: “He has not appointed his followers to be kingdom police checking out everyone else’s kingdom work. We should focus on what God has given us to do. We should not be going around looking for weeds. We should be sowing the seeds of God’s word. It’s a matter of focus.”

Certainly, if someone is leading the flock away from the truth, we should intervene, just as we should if we see a brother or sister walking away from Christ. But, as John Nugent continued, “We are not really in the business of driving people out who don’t quite get it right. We need to be patient, give God time to work on people, and trust him to judge when his time is right.”

And to that point, we should reference what Jesus says at the end of the Matthew 18:15-20 passage. He is with us if a decision of expulsion must be made. He is taking the lead. We must be sure that we always surrender the reins to him.

And so, I believe part of Jesus’ emphasis here is simply that we need to set realistic expectations, not that we need to be looking for weeds on an individual basis, trying to root them all up. The quote from Endangered Gospel above is again pertinent.

The enemy wants to sabotage the King’s field. We know that he ultimately won’t be successful, but we still have to deal with his attempts. That involves weeds masquerading as wheat. Many of the letters in the New Testament warn us of this threat. In Acts 20:29-31, Paul warns the Ephesian elders of fierce wolves that will be present within their own number. So as a general principle, this comes as no surprise. What was surprising to me is that those people are, for now, considered to be part of God’s Kingdom. But then I remember, even Jesus had a Judas in his inner circle!

In Gerhard Lohfink’s book, The Forty Parables of Jesus, he says: “Jesus’ preaching and practice did not correspond to [a] model of a holy, self-separating community…Above all, the Jesus movement was made up of despised people, social outcasts, and sinners. So, Jesus gathered, but he did not segregate…Jesus would certainly not have equated the sinners with whom he associated with poisonous weeds. The point of comparison would have been the association of holy and unholy, good and evil. Now, at this hour, a clear and clean distinction cannot be drawn. In fact, Jesus said elsewhere, we have to suppose that the real wickedness does not lurk among the sinners but is at home with those who elevate themselves above the outcasts and the sinful.”

Ouch! Have I acted like the Pharisee who despised the tax collector (Luke 18:10-14)? Our efforts are not to be directed at identifying and uprooting those we see as weeds. We live in him and by him, we grow, and we bear fruit. Just as he is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:1-11), so too is he the soil and we are the fruit from it.

The Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32)

Who hasn’t heard this parable? It’s often presented as a picture of the gospel growing from a tiny seed into a huge tree—it seems small and insignificant from the start, but it will become a great kingdom. To be clear, God’s Kingdom will certainly overcome all and is the everlasting kingdom! I fully affirm this fact. I just don’t believe that’s the point of this parable. If we look at this story without extracting it from its context, we’ll come away with a different interpretation.

First, what is this mustard seed that Jesus is referencing? There is no consensus among scholars. One common herb grown in that region was Black Mustard (Rhamphospermum nigrum), which has been said to grow up to ten feet tall. Typical growth, however, is only about three feet tall with a thin and wispy branching pattern. Since Jesus seems to be talking about a garden and that was a popular spice, I’m inclined to think this was the plant in mind, but I can’t say for certain. Another possibility is Nicotiana glauca, which is a woody plant (more of a shrub or small tree). If we go too far down this rabbit trail though, I think we’ll miss the point.

(Black Mustard, Rhamphospermum nigrum. Katrin Schneider, korina.info – CC-BY-SA-4.0, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

While growth rate is a point of emphasis for sure, I believe the emphasis is actually an abnormal growth rate. Black Mustard can grow rapidly, but for it to grow into a “tree” that birds could nest in would paint a picture of something highly unusual, especially in someone’s garden as Luke records it (Luke 13:18-19). This abnormal growth might even be looked as deviant, as the plant overshadows the rest of the garden. When we read all of Matthew 13, there is a lot of undeniable negativity—3 out of the 4 soils are bad, the weeds are bad, the net has a lot of bad fish, leaven is always bad (contrary to popular belief in this chapter). Jesus isn’t speaking in a bunch of disjointed short stories—he’s painting a consistent picture. There’s something about the Kingdom that he wanted his disciples (and us) to understand. He’s warning us that in this “already but not yet” period of the Kingdom, it’s not going to be perfect. There will be bad soil in the ground, there will be weeds in the field, and we may see some “mutant growth.” Doesn’t world history illustrate this perfectly when Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman Empire? When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, suddenly becoming a Christian was a politically advantageous position. “Nesting” in this puffed-up “tree” of the Kingdom becomes a comfortable spot for the corrupt rulers of the day. And that leads us to the birds…

The nesting birds are a clear picture of corruption. Remember what the birds were an example of in the first parable. In fact, birds very often are used as symbols of the evil one or something unclean, so Jesus’ analogy is hardly a new thing. See Genesis 15:11-16 where birds of prey represent an evil omen of Israel’s future bondage in Egypt (which is cross referenced in Deuteronomy 28:26 and Jeremiah 7:33). Also, in Genesis 40:16-19, Joseph interprets the chief baker’s dream to mean that Pharoah will behead him, and the birds will eat his flesh! Hardly desirable images. This is certainly not to say that there are not positive usages of birds (the Holy Spirit is represented as a dove, for instance), but it is important that we interpret passages in their immediate and wider contexts. It bears repeating: Jesus is in mid-stride with a consistent teaching here. He has already defined the birds (Matthew 13:19). He has also already clearly established in this same conversation the idea of a mixture of good and bad together. Since we don’t have a side-bar explanation of this parable like we do the soils, the wheat and weeds, and the net (as we’ll see), it behooves us to base our interpretation of this parable alongside the others. The birds are like the weeds—making their home in and amongst the true kingdom citizens. And this home is made even more hospitable due to some abnormal growth.

Sometimes a lack of direct explanation is frustrating. Why can’t it just be laid out in black and white? Jesus’ first disciples wondered the same. But we know that Jesus wanted his message to reach only those who were truly seeking. All the disciples ever had to do was ask Jesus what he meant, as they did many times. Those who don’t have ears to hear or eyes to see won’t ask. They won’t seek. They won’t knock. (Matthew 7:7-11) Jesus is an artist. His metaphors and comparisons paint incredibly rich portraits for those who look on them intently. And the more we seek, the more we see! (Matthew 13:12).

When this parable is examined on its own (as is often the case), it’s easy to extract another meaning altogether. But that’s precisely the point: We were never supposed to lift these tiny fragments out of their place in the story. I believe this part of Matthew’s gospel is a notable example of the pitfalls of that study method. And another perfect example of that comes in the next verse…

The Leaven (Matthew 13:33)

We’ve all heard this verse in isolation. It’s commonly cited as a way to say that the gospel will slowly spread throughout the earth until everyone comes to the King. I wholeheartedly believe that one day every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11), and the Kingdom will one day be the only kingdom left standing. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus was talking about here. Not only does that idea not fit the flow of the narrative, but it completely ignores the consistent symbolism of leaven in all of Scripture.

Part of the context we always have to keep in mind is the audience Jesus is speaking to and their cultural background. The Jews listening are all too familiar with the symbolism of leaven—they’ve heard the story of the Exodus every year for their entire lives, and they’re quite familiar with the sacrificial system. Let’s start with Exodus to get more of that context.

The Israelites have been in bondage in Egypt for 400 years. God has raised up Moses for the mission of bringing them out of Egypt and into the promised land. Pharoah has not responded to the plagues, as God knew he wouldn’t. The warning of the final plague has gone out. The Lord will strike down every first born in the land unless the blood of a spotless lamb marks the doorway of the house. But first, some preparation! (See Exodus 12 for all the details.) For seven days, they were to only eat unleavened bread. Not only that, but they also had to get every speck of leaven out of their houses. And if they failed to do that, they would be cut off from Israel! (Exodus 12:14-15)

That sounds awfully harsh, doesn’t it? But look at the great mercy that God shows when the Israelites leave Egypt. It wasn’t just the Israelites who left. A “mixed multitude” left with them (Exodus 12:38)! God had an open-door policy to join in with his people. He even provided an avenue (circumcision) for that mixed multitude to officially become part of his people, to be as a native Israelite (to be “wheat,” if you will). If they didn’t want to be circumcised, God was merciful to still allow them to be with the people as a “stranger who sojourns among you” (Exodus 12:48-49). What an awesome and merciful God. Raise your hand if this is the first time you heard about a “mixture” leaving Egypt with the Israelites…

And certainly, Israel’s history is full of examples of “outsiders” that became great blessings—two perfect examples being Rahab and Ruth, who are even in the genealogy of Jesus! But we can’t ignore the problems that would come about because of this mixture either. For example, a son of an Israelite and an Egyptian blasphemed the Name. A decree was given that whether a native or a sojourner, blaspheming the Name would result in death (Leviticus 24:10-12). Also, the “rabble” (as the mixed multitude was called) had a strong craving for meat while they wandered in the desert. This influenced even the native Israelites to complain to God about the manna he provided. God, in his mercy, provided quail. But because of their lustful desire, they gorged themselves on God’s gift and he punished them severely. There are many more examples, both good and bad, of the results of mixture in the nation of Israel. It was most definitely a foreshadowing. And Jesus didn’t want his disciples to forget that just because he was inaugurating the new kingdom, a mixture was still going to be present.

(www.yourbestdigs.com/reviews/best-bread-machine/, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Why leaven? Why was that such an important symbol?

For one, the unleavened bread serves as a practical reminder of their rescue from Egypt. They had to leave in haste. They had no time to allow their bread to rise. They had to escape!

We know what the spotless lamb represents—it’s a picture of the blood of Christ. A gift that washes us, cleanses us, and makes us holy (Colossians 1:22). And because that blood represented a cleansing and allowed the Lord to “pass over” their house, they had to actually cleanse the impurity out of the house. Leaven represented that impurity. God was making Israel into his holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6). They are leaving behind their old life and being consecrated to God in a new life. This is a “new creation” story. They are starting fresh. Paul makes this same connection in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8. The word translated as “sincerity” there in vs. 8 is the Greek word for purity.

Jesus himself compares the bread of the Passover meal to his own body—the purity of the unleavened bread is matched with the purity of the body of Christ (Luke 22:19).

The Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost, also involves leaven—but this time Israel is told to present leavened loaves to God. So, it must represent something good and pleasing here, right? Nope. They are to present these loaves to God as a “wave offering,” and then seven spotless lambs, one bull, and two rams as a burnt offering. The leavened bread actually represents their own sin as a nation, while the burnt offerings represent the atonement for those sins. (Leviticus 23:15-18)

Leviticus 7:12-14 discusses more offerings of bread. First mentioned here is the peace offering. It is an offering of unleavened bread, and it’s a foreshadowing of the peace that Christ is to us, who through his perfect sacrifice reconciles to God (Ephesians 2:13-18). The second is the thanksgiving offering which involved leavened bread. Similar to the offering at the Feast of Weeks, this offering is one of thanksgiving that God has offered this peace to even impure beings. These leavened loaves are not burned (Exodus 23:18, Leviticus 2:11); they are actually given to the priest for food.

Again, we’re talking about the symbol of leaven, not leaven itself. Clearly the Israelites used leaven in their everyday lives to bake bread. In Matthew 16:6-12, Jesus even has to clarify that he’s speaking symbolically of leaven when he tells his disciples to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They start looking around for literal bread to get rid of, completely forgetting that Jesus just did two huge miracles with leavened loaves of bread.

In addition to Matthew 16 and 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, other New Testament passages also carry forward the allegorical use of leaven for evil or sin (see Luke 12:1, Mark 8:15, Galatians 5:9). Paul uses the phrase “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” That’s not an original line from Paul—he took it straight from Jesus’ teaching here! “Purging the leaven” from the body of believers is also a direct reference to the Israelites purging the leaven from their houses during the Passover.

Jesus isn’t pulling a fast one on his listeners. He isn’t trying to get them to see leaven in a new light. He’s trying to get them to see the Kingdom in a new light! It’s precisely because of their understanding of the symbol of leaven that makes this a mind-bending exercise. Just as his other parables in this section are paradoxical, this one is no different. Yes, there are weeds in the kingdom and there is leaven in the kingdom…for now.

“But,” some might ask, “didn’t Jesus say the Kingdom of Heaven Is like leaven? If leaven is bad, how could God’s Kingdom be bad?” Let’s say, for instance, that leaven is equivalent to false teaching (which is what it was compared to in Matthew 16:5-12). Jesus isn’t saying the Kingdom of Heaven is like false teaching, but rather that there will be false teaching within the kingdom. The many warnings in the New Testament letters attest to that fact.

This sure is a long discussion for just one verse! Jesus is quite the artist—his words are rich, and those riches are inexhaustible (Ephesians 3:8)! As such, we have a few more items to mention for this parable:

Jesus says the woman hid this leaven in the flour. This has the connotation of a subversive act. The Greek word used in Matthew, enkryptō, can mean simply to “put in.” However, in Luke’s account of this parable (Luke 13:20-21), the Greek word more specifically means to “conceal” or “keep a secret.”

The mention of “three measures of flour” would have also brought to their minds the fellowship offering in Genesis 18:1-15 (see vs. 6 for the same measure of flour!). That wasn’t just some random coincidence. And that much dough makes way more bread than anyone would make on a typical day. No, Jesus is purposefully leading his hearers to this story. For Jesus’ Jewish audience, adding leaven to the fellowship offering, a meal with God and his angels, would have brought horror! This was a clear act of sabotage. It’s interesting too that Sarah is a point of focus here in Genesis—her lack of faith in God’s promise and her flippant attitude. Who did Abraham ask to make the “cakes” (unleavened, round, flat loaves)? Who did Jesus say hid the leaven in the flour? Sarah’s laughter, which she tried to hide from God, is the woman’s leaven, hidden in the dough. Whoa!

One other item of note that I make no conclusions about here but will mention out of sheer curiosity—there are seven kingdom parables in this teaching of Jesus. There are seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3. This parable of the leaven is the fourth parable told. The fourth letter to the church in Thyatira is about a woman (Jezebel) who sabotaged the church there by concealing false teaching under the guise of prophecy. In fact, there may be some interesting correlations with all the letters to the churches and these kingdom parables. I leave that to you to investigate!

The Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13:44)

The next parable of mixture Jesus presents is the treasure hidden in the field. The treasure is buried, covered by dirt and impurities. The man doesn’t just buy the treasure itself—he buys the whole field that contains the treasure. Going back to the wheat and the weeds, that field contained the true treasure (the wheat), but the master owns the whole field, weeds and all. At the proper time, the treasure will be taken up out of the field and enjoyed in its pure state.

There are two different perspectives we can examine this parable from:

Imagine the man in this parable represents Jesus. When he gave “all that he has” on the cross, he gave it all for the whole world (Philippians 2:5-11). He bought and redeemed the whole world (John 12:44-50), even dying for those who nailed him to the cross. But there is something incredibly special to him in this world—his bride, his church, his body. He gives us all an opportunity to be a part of that treasure.

Now imagine that you are the man. You’ve come upon that treasure that is God’s Kingdom. This is a free gift from God, but it comes at a great cost. We know what it cost Jesus. Just as it cost him his life, it should cost us ours as well! If we truly value this treasure, it’s not a difficult decision to give up everything else. Trading earthly treasure for heavenly treasure is an easy choice if we understand the true value (Matthew 6:19-21). Mike Breen in Building a Discipling Culture uses the parable of the dishonest manager (Luke 16:1-13) and the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30) to discuss “spiritual capital” versus “financial capital.” We can only serve one of these two masters, and we will ultimately choose the one we assign the highest value. We know which one the rich young ruler valued most—he went away sorrowfully when Jesus confronted him with the truth in his heart. The disciples retort that they’ve given up their homes and lives to follow him. Jesus affirms their choice, saying that indeed they’ll receive so much more by laying aside the treasures of earth (Luke 18:28-30).

And this is one way that the “rabble” in the field will identify themselves in the end—they won’t forsake all to take hold of the treasure. They won’t buy the field. And in that choice, they will be weeded out of the Kingdom.

Have ears to hear! Ask deeper questions. Seek the treasure and you’ll find it. (Proverbs 2:1-5)

The Pearl of Great Value (Matthew 13:45-46)

This parable is similar to the treasure hidden in the field. Again, the merchant can represent Jesus or us.

Jesus gave it all for the pearl—his bride, his church, his body. This is the most precious jewel in Jesus’ eyes. He gave up even his equal position with God to obtain this jewel (Philippians 2:6-7).

Likewise, when we see the value of this pearl, it’s not a hardship to give everything else up for it. We value it most of all.

There seems to be many pearls in view here, but only one in that mix is the precious pearl of the merchant’s eyes. At first glance to the unsuspecting person, they might just see a collection of common pearls (like the weeds might look like wheat at first glance), but when we have eyes to see, the one pearl of great value comes into focus, and it is the only thing worth having.

(Muséum de Toulouse, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s also worth noting that an oyster is actually considered unclean by Jewish law (Leviticus 11:10-12). This precious jewel is enclosed in something unclean. Jesus is making something clean inside the unclean. There’s a purification going on in this mixture.

The actual process the oyster undergoes to create the pearl deserves a closer look. A contaminant (like a grain of sand) infiltrates the oyster’s shell. It endures this adversity by excreting a substance called nacre, coating the grain of sand with layer after layer of this beautiful component. The result is a precious pearl, the redemption of the suffering the oyster endured. Without Christ covering us and making us pure, we would be nothing more than that contaminant.

Again, the rabble won’t endure the hardship to create the pearl. They also won’t pay the cost to buy the pearl.

Frank Viola, in The Insurgence Podcast (episode #110) said: “We know we value something if we are willing to sacrifice for it.” Amen!

The Net (Matthew 13:47-50)

Jesus comes full circle with this last parable here, and again this time, like the wheat and the weeds, he offers an interpretation and highlights his teaching of the current mixture in the kingdom that will be sorted out in the end.

The sea of Galilee was full of all kinds of fish, but only a few species were edible. When fishermen lowered their net and dragged it through the water, they caught all the fish indiscriminately. It wasn’t until the nets were drawn onto the shore that the fish were sorted.

Jesus gives the interpretation: there are evil among the righteous. They’re together for now—in the same ground, in the same fields, in the same garden, in the same loaf of bread, in the same market, in the same net. At the proper time, He will do the sorting.

(Mehr News Agency, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Conclusion

We think of God’s Kingdom, and we think of perfection. And it will be so! But now we are still in the refining stage. And we thank God for his mercy! If we had to come to the Kingdom already refined, I’d be on the outside myself.

Jesus has invited all to his feast. In Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus compares the Kingdom to a king giving a wedding feast. When those who were invited first refused to come, the king tells his servants to extend the invitation to “as many as you find.” And so, the servants went out, gathering “all whom they found, both bad and good.” Both bad and good! But when the feast commenced, the king sorted through the guests. When the king determined a guest to be unworthy, he was cast out. Many are called, many are invited, but only a small number are chosen in the end (Matthew 22:14). The way is narrow, and few find it (Matthew 7:14).

Again, Jesus compares the Kingdom to ten virgins who took their lamps to meet the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13). Five of those virgins were foolish, five were wise. When the bridegroom came, the foolish missed his arrival because they didn’t have oil for their lamps. The bridegroom shut them out of the feast.

In The Insurgence Podcast (Episode #111), Jeffrey Harley brings out an interesting note from T. Austin-Sparks: Even Cain and Abel represent this mixture. They both acknowledged God and offered sacrifices to him. But when faced with the ultimate choice of following God or his own desires, Cain chose the latter (Genesis 4).

Don’t misunderstand—there is another kingdom that is totally outside God’s Kingdom. There are many fields of all kinds of other weeds, if you will, that are not included in this mixture. Afterall, Jesus said as he was handed over to be crucified: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36) Satan is referred to as the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11), the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), and the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). Satan has his own claim on this earth right now, but God has already won the victory. He is reclaiming the earth for himself, and we get to play a part in that! (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21) Satan’s rule and reign is on borrowed time. He and all who pledge allegiance to that world order will be destroyed in the end (1 Corinthians 15:24). The weeds in God’s Kingdom will also join them (Matthew 13:40-42).

So, we know we have enemies outside, but we must be aware that there are weeds within too. Rome wasn’t in Jesus’ inner circle, but Judas certainly was. We pray for refinement of those weeds, and we praise God for the refinement that he is currently offering to us. We shouldn’t be worried about pointing out the weeds in the field because we are all still in the process of refinement ourselves! If you are part of his body, you are at present being transformed, your mind is being renewed (Romans 12:2). Let us not focus on putting magnifying glasses on others in the kingdom, but rather let us continually examine ourselves. Do I have ears to hear and eyes to see? Am I keeping my heart open to his truths? May my soil never be so hard that his seeds cannot penetrate the surface.

Don’t label the soils of others, just sow the seed. Don’t try to pluck out the weeds, just be the wheat that produces the fruit. Don’t try to identify the fish, just be the good fish.

After Jesus tells these seven parables, Jesus asks the disciples if they understood. They claim to have grasped it—who’s to say if that was actually true at the moment. But Jesus explains that they are being trained to take what they have known and what is being revealed to them now. They are being specially prepared to paint the complete portrait of God’s Kingdom that until that time had been shrouded in mystery.

And even following this episode, the disciples get to see play out exactly what Jesus was teaching. That mixture in the kingdom is present even in Jesus’ hometown (Matthew 13:53-58). The Jews in Nazareth didn’t want to believe in him because they thought they already understood who he was. They were wise in their own eyes. They only treasured what was old and their current understanding and had no openness to what was new.

I sincerely hope this deep dive into the parables of the Kingdom in Matthew 13 was valuable to you. This subject has been marinating in me for a while—many conversations over breakfast with a dear brother, bouncing thoughts off my wife, in-depth studies with friends, listening to podcasts, reading articles, and having many brothers and sisters critique my notes. Much of it is still marinating now, but I had to go ahead and compile what I had, if for no other reason than for my own study down the road. I encourage you to do your own deep dive! Find another set of parables and dig in. Parables are meant to go well beyond the superficial. After all, Jesus used the parables to mask the message from those who were “wise in their own eyes” (Matthew 13:13, Isaiah 5:21) His kingdom truths are hidden from the wise but revealed to the children (Matthew 11:25-26, Matthew 13:16-17). It’s the great mystery that Paul speaks of (Ephesians 3:4-13, Colossians 1:26-27). Explore the mystery. The riches are inexhaustible!

I also encourage you to check out these awesome resources for further study into God’s Kingdom. A lot of the material in this article can be credited to these guys:

Jesus in Creation

The Bible is a unified collection of different types of literature that in some way, shape, or form point to Jesus Christ. Even way back in the Creation narratives. After all, he was there the entire time.

Jesus’ existence didn’t begin in that manger in Bethlehem. He has always been, just as the Father and the Spirit have always been. There are several New Testament passages that point to this:

  • John 1:1-5,18 – “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God. The Word was God…”
  • John 8:58 – “Before Abraham was, I am.” (Jesus uses the same name that God introduces himself to Moses with!)
  • John 17:4-5,24 – The relationship between the Father and Son “before the foundation of the world.”
  • Colossians 1:15-23 – “By Him all things were created…”
  • Hebrews 1:1-4 – Through Christ, God created the world.
  • Hebrews 4:3 – Christ’s works were already finished from the foundation of the world! (More on how time works from God’s perspective in another article perhaps, but God is beyond time. He is the beginning and the end all at once. Time is within him.)

So back to creation: What’s something in the Creation narratives that point to Christ? The easy one is Genesis 1:26 – “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”

But there’s so much more!

DAY ONE: Genesis 1:3-5 – God separates the light from darkness

Jesus is the light.

  • John 1:4-5 – “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
  • John 8:12 – “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

His Light shines through us as we live by his life.

  • Matthew 5:14-16 – “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
  • 2 Corinthians 4:6 – “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

DAY TWO: Genesis 1:6-8 – God separates the water from the sky

The Heavens are separated from the Earth. This is a prophecy of what will happen between man and God and what must eventually come to bridge that gap—Jesus’ sacrifice.

  • Isaiah 59:2 – “…but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”
  • John 8:23-24 – “He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
  • Hebrews 9:28 – “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

DAY THREE: Genesis 1:9-13 – The dry ground appears out of the sea with fruit-bearing vegetation

The sea initially covers the earth—the sea represents chaos, darkness, and death. God calls the land to appear, representing LIFE coming out of death and fruit being produced!

Also, what day did Jesus arise from the grave?

  • Luke 9:22 – “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
  • Luke 24:6-7 – “He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

Jesus is the Tree of Life. In the Garden of Eden, God invited Adam and Eve to partake of the Tree of Life. They opted instead for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and access to the Tree of Life was cut off. When Christ came to Earth, that access was restored!

  • John 5:21 – Christ gives us life.
  • John 6:33 – He’s the bread of life.
  • John 6:53-58, Matthew 26:26-28 – Jesus is the new tree of life we should eat from
  • John 11:25-26 – Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life
  • John 19:41, John 20:15 – Jesus’ body was laid in a garden after the crucifixion, and after he was raised Mary even thought he was the gardener!
  • Colossians 3:4 – Christ is our life!
  • 1 Corinthians 15:22,45 – Christ is our life-giving spirit
  • Romans 8:10 – Christ in us is life.
  • Ephesians 2:1-10 – “…But God…made us alive together in Christ…”

It’s also a picture of our own regeneration and new life coming out of death.

  • Romans 6:3-4 – “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
  • Romans 7:4 – “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”

DAY FOUR: Genesis 1:14-19 – God creates the sun, moon, and stars

Jesus is the Sun!

  • Malachi 4:2 – “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”
  • Luke 1:78 – “…because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high.”

His church is the Moon. The church has no light of its own, but reflects his light. The church witnesses over the night (the darkness in the world).

  • Psalm 89:36-37 – “His offspring shall endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.”

We as individuals are the stars.

  • Philippians 2:15 – “That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights [stars] in the world.”
  • Daniel 12:3 – “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

Jesus ascends back to the Heavens after his resurrection.

  • Mark 16:19 – “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.”

God wanted to co-rule with us!

  • Psalm 136:7-9 – “…to him who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever; the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever; the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever…”

DAYS FIVE & SIX: Genesis 1:20-31 – God creates sea creatures, birds, land animals, and humans

God fills the earth with lifeforms, culminating in the highest lifeform on Earth – humans. He gave them the Tree of Life to eat and the River of Life to drink so that they could live by HIS divine, eternal life.

  • John 6:53-58 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live by the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live by me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
  • Genesis 3:22 – “Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”
  • 2 Peter 1:3-4 – “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”

DAY SEVEN: Genesis 2:1-3 – God rests, or reigns, from his throne with the Son

God ruled from his throne with the Son after creation.

  • Isaiah 45:6-7 – “That people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.”
  • Mark 16:19 – “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.”
  • Acts 4:24 – “…Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them…”
  • 1 Corinthians 15:24-27 – “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”
  • Colossians 1:15-16 – “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”

God always wanted to co-rule with us!

  • Genesis 1:26-28 – “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
  • Genesis 2:15 – “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”
  • Ephesians 2:6 – “…and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

What an awesome God and Messiah we have!