I had this written up from my recent stay in the hospital, but I forgot to post it. These are some notes and thoughts about the kingdom parables in the gospels (mostly Matthew), taken after I did my comprehensive study of the Kingdom in the NT. I hope this blesses, or at least stimulates some thought:
The Parables of the Kingdom:
a. The Sower (Matt. 13:1-9 + 10-23 – explanation)
– 13:19 calls the gospel “the word of the kingdom”.
– The point of this parable is that one’s response to the gospel shows one’s relationship to the kingdom. 13:19 comments on those who hear and don’t respond to the gospel, 13:20-22 comment on those who hear and respond positively (but not in saving faith) to the gospel, and 13:23 comments on those who hear and respond in saving faith to the gospel.
b. The Weeds (Matt. 13:24-29 + 13:36-43 – explanation)
– The point of this parable is that the kingdom isn’t what it looks like; it includes both true and false converts who will be sorted out at the final judgment (13:39-40). The true converts are the plants, planted by Christ (13:37), that “came up and bore grain” in order to show that they’re citizens of the kingdom (13:26, 38) and the false converts are the weeds, sown by the enemy (13:28, 38). Both the grain-bearing plants and the weeds remain together until the harvest where the weeds are bundled and burned in a fiery furnace (13:42) and the plants are brought into the master’s barn.
– Matthew 13:41 also seems to be talking about the rapture of the wicked at the end of the tribulation, where the angels will “gather out of his kingdom all the causes of sin and all law-breakers”. This is the “end of the age”, not meaning the last calendar day of the millennium, but rather during the events of “the end”.
c. The Mustard Seed (Matt. 13:31-32)
– The point of this parable is that the kingdom’s beginning is not reflective of its end. Like the growing mustard seed, the kingdom is inaugurated with an insignificant manifestation that will change in time; in time the smallest and most insignificant kingdom will become “larger than all the garden plants” (13:32).
d. The Leaven (Matt. 13:33)
– The point of this parable is not the same as the previous one. The Parable of the Mustard Seed was about significance and apparent significance, but the point of this parable is that the growth of the kingdom is basically invisible. Like the invisible leavening effect of yeast in flour, the gospel penetrates the world and has its effect with little pyrotechnics. This is suggested by the fact that the woman “hid” the leaven in the flour, and also that the woman was using “three measures” (grk – saton – 16 lbs) of flour; a vast amount of flour to leaven that would take lots of time and would not be very apparent (48 lbs).
e. The Treasure in the Field (Matt. 13:44)
– The point of this parable is two-fold; the main point is that the kingdom is hidden and the secondary point is its value. It’s worth noting that the fact of the treasure being hidden suggests that the kingdom isn’t an obvious, out-in-the-open treasure, but rather one that is discovered through no skill or ability of the one who stumbles upon it. It’s worth noting that the individual re-hid the treasure once he found it, to ensure that nobody else stumbled across it like he did and stole it. It’s also worth noting is how the individual went off and bought the field, not the treasure. As the field cost him all he had, the treasure was more valuable than the sum of this man’s resources (probably significantly, considering his reaction).
f. The Pearl of Great Price (Matt. 13:45)
– The point of this parable is again two-fold; the main point is that the kingdom is found by searching and the secondary point is its value. The merchant was a pearl finder, and he would have spent his life basically travelling and searching for pearls. Once he found a fine pearl for an unlikely low price, he sold everything he had and bought it. The reason I say that the pearl was found for an unlikely low price was that the merchant sold everything he had to buy it at its current price, which insinuates that its true value exceeded the value of everything he had.
I would suggest that these two parables balance one another; the kingdom is hidden but people do find it who look in the right spot. I would suggest that the idea of these combined parables is that the gospel message (and subsequent entrance to the kingdom) is divinely revealed to the one who searches the scriptures diligently and labours to know the truth about God, himself, why he is the way he is, what his ultimate state will be, and how he can do something about it.
g. The Net (Matt. 13:47-50)
– The point of this parable is similar to the parable of the weeds; the kingdom currently appears in a mixed form with both true and false kingdom citizens in it. The good fish (believers/true citizens) and the bad fish (disbelievers/false citizens) appear together in the net (likely the church, possibly the world) and will be separated at the end of the age when the good fish are packed up and the bad fish are burned.
h. The Unforgiving Servant (Matt. 18:23-35)
– The point of this parable is that kingdom citizens are marked by self-oriented forgiveness; kingdom citizens are aware of their immense and immeasurable debt of sin toward God that is removed from them in order to enter the kingdom, and therefore don’t hold the meager debts of sin toward them against their debtors.
i. The Laborers in the Vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16)
-The point of this parable is that the citizens of the kingdom all receive eternal life equally as a gift of unmerited grace, without respect to their own perceptions of worth or qualifications for reward; there are no “upper class” citizens of the kingdom. Also, the idea of the parable is a bit of a rebuke to Peter’s attitude expressed in 19:27; Peter was expecting reward for his following of Jesus but Jesus was teaching that all who follow him get the same great reward (eternal life). This isn’t to say that 19:28-30 isn’t true, but rather that one does not enter the Kingdom expecting to be rewarded for service or sacrifice. The reward of the kingdom is eternal life, not a position of power and prestige.
j. The Two Sons (Matt. 21:28-32)
– The point of this parable is quite straight forward; those who believe the gospel gain access to the kingdom, regardless of social or political standing. This parable is about the response of the “sinners” (in the eyes of the Pharisees) to the Gospel. The parable closes with a simple explanation of how John gave instruction in the “way of righteousness” and the Pharisees disbelieved, even when they saw prostitutes and tax collectors entering the kingdom.
k. The Tenants (Matt. 21:33-46)
– The point of this parable is quite straight forward; a negative response to the person or message of Christ bars entrance to the kingdom. This parable is about the response of the “righteous” (in the eyes of the Pharisees) to the Gospel. The parable closes off with the Pharisees giving commentary on the just reward to the wicked tenants, who killed the master’s slaves and son, as being put to a “miserable death”. The Pharisees are the wicked tenants and condemn themselves with their own verdict, which they realize in 21:45, but let be as they were afraid of the crowds (21:46).
l. The Wedding Feast (Matt. 22:1-14)
– The point of this parable is two fold: the original invitation to the kingdom was rejected by Israel but now the invitation to the kingdom is open to all, though not without qualification. It’s worth noting that the original guests were executed on the basis of their apathy towards the invitation and treatment of the king’s messengers, but the new guest was executed because he was improperly dressed. Both are sinful and highly dishonoring to the king, and both are somewhat parallel responses; one didn’t care about the invitation and didn’t come, one came but didn’t care about dishonoring to the king. Both are improper responses to the invitation to the wedding feast, and both categories are barred from the wedding feast due to lacking the worthiness necessary to gain access (22:8, 12), and that worthiness is essentially “righteousness”. It would seem that the original invitation went to the Jews (and was rejected) and the second invitation went to all (and was rejected by some).
m. The Ten Virgins (Matt. 25:1-13)
– The point of this parable is that the kingdom will arrive when you do not expect it, so one must diligently await the kingdom. This is explained in the closing verse (25:13), and I suspect that this parable was given in order to explain the dichotomy between the expectations of the kingdom and the reality during the ministry of Christ.
n. The Talents (Matt. 25:14-30)
– The point of this parable is to help the disciples understand what to do in the light of the realization that the kingdom is a future reality. The master went on a journey, entrusted his wealth to their management, and rewarded or punished them accordingly when he returned. The details may be slightly uncertain (i.e. a talent might well be “spiritual responsibility”, or “spiritual gifts”, or “knowledge”, etc.), but the thrust of the parable is clear; the slaves should only bother themselves with fulfilling the master’s commission and be as good a steward as they could with what they’ve been given. I would guess that the talent is most likely something along “knowledge of the gospel”, and those who know much and do much with that knowledge will be rewarded, but those who know little and ignore what little they know will be punished for their disobedience. This parable isn’t commenting on who is saved and who isn’t, but rather on the responsibility of all people to properly respond to the message of the kingdom. (This is similar to the parable of the lamp in Mark 4:21-25).
o. The Seed (Mark 4:26-29)
– The point of this parable is the invisible and mysterious growth of the kingdom; the farmer plans the seed and “the seed sprouts and grows; he does not know how”. The idea is that the kingdom comes about through its own means, not through any efforts of any person.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “The Budding Armchair Kingdomologist” Unger