Sunday, 20 November 2011

What do the parables of Jesus in Matthew 13 and 22:1-14 reveal about the Kingdom of God

The three words Kingdom of God or as Mathew calls it, the kingdom of heaven form the one and only concept which permeates all of Jesus’ ministry giving it unusual coherence and clarity[1]. In the synoptic gospels the expression is found more than a hundred times but only twice in the fourth gospel therefore scholars have widely agreed that the central theme in the ministry of Jesus is the Kingdom of God[2]. In this essay, the concept of the Kingdom of God will be briefly discussed looking at the different perspectives of how people have approached the subject historically; and then the parables found in Matthew 13 and 22:1-14 will be analysed to show what they reveal about the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God

Historically there have been debates on what Jesus exactly meant by the Kingdom and thus throughout history there has been many interpretations of what the kingdom of God is. What exactly the Kingdom of God is and how it will come as received a bewildering diversity of explanations.

Augustine the much celebrated church Father believed that the Church and the Kingdom were the same thing. Augustine taught that the catholic (universal) church was the Kingdom of Christ therefore as the church grows the kingdom grows and is extended in the world. Others such as those who are dispensationalist have focused almost entirely on the future coming of God’s Kingdom by denying the contemporary relevance of Jesus’ proclamations of the present kingdom during his earthly ministry. In response to this extreme view of an entirely future coming of the Kingdom, some have dispensed with any future dimension to the kingdom. This view advocates a present responsibility of ushering in God’s kingdom through the necessity of human effort in establishing justice in their current world[3].

Others, like Adolf von Harnack reduced the kingdom of God to a subjective realm understanding the Kingdom of Christ in terms of the human spirit and its relationship to God. The kingdom is articulated by the new birth and its an inward power which enters into the soul and claims it. Some have also viewed the Kingdom of God as an evolutionary process where God works through society mysteriously, quietly and slowly.

C.H. Dodd in his important book The Parables of the Kingdom (1935) gives the interpretation that the Kingdom of God was already a present reality during Jesus’ ministry. Dodd viewed the Kingdom of God as a timeless reality. Dodd’s views has led to a number of mediating positions according to which the Kingdom of God is conceived as both present and future. This view will be taken up later on in the essay. Some charismatic movements emphasise the now of the kingdom espousing what is called “kingdom now” theology. This view equates the kingdom with gifts of healing and speaking in tongues concluding that the kingdom is associated with spectacular manifestations in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Others have asserted that the Kingdom of God is a world where Man and God are cooperating with each other in other to establish God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. An appeal is made to the Lord’s prayer ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.

However, the present consensus is that the Kingdom of God is both present and future. This view emphasises the final consummation of God’s kingdom at the end of the age while also emphasising the present nature of it in this age. An appeal is made to the ministry of Jesus that the kingdom of God was manifested in his ministry and it is continued through his disciples and believers. The apostolic teaching seems to hold to this view of God’s kingdom. Paul emphatically declares that Christians have been transferred into the kingdom of Christ[4] and the writer to the Hebrews further declares that Christians have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken[5]; yet they have only tasted of the power of the age to come[6], and heirs of a future kingdom[7]. This prevailing view generally refers The kingdom of God to mean his saving reign not to his total providence over all things[8]. While not denying that the Kingdom of God may imply his total reign over all creation yet a distinction is made where God is reigning in the lives of his people and in the world as his will is done in heaven on earth. The parables of Jesus give a flavour of this present and future dynamic of the Kingdom of God.

What the parables reveal about the Kingdom of God

By means of parables Jesus frequently referred to the Kingdom of God and at times focused on it explicitly. Matthew declared explicitly in Mathew 13 that Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables and said nothing to them without a parable. Some have wrongly inferred from this that the true words of Jesus are the ones He spoke in parables and all his other statements are mere words put into the mouth of Jesus. This view neglects what Matthew writes in Mathew 13:1 clearly giving us a context that Jesus was speaking to an audience with whom he had already had an encounter with. In Matthew 12 Jesus is accused of being demon possessed and the source of his powers were attributed to Satan. The Pharisees and Scribes wanted Jesus to perform a sign to proof his legitimacy as the Messiah but Jesus had previously done a miraculous work and they fail to see its significance. It is not surprising then when Jesus’ disciples asked him why He spoke to the audience in parables Jesus astonishingly answers ‘because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand…for this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart, and turn and I would heal them’[9]. The parables may therefore be seen as a judgment on the crowd because they fail to see and recognise Jesus as the coming Messiah. Jesus made no attempt to interpret the parables to the crowd but made the sweeping statement ‘He who has ears, let him hear[10]’.

The parables of Jesus someone has written reflect with peculiar clarity the character of his good news, the eschatological nature of his preaching, the intensity of his summons to repentance, and his conflict with pharisiasm. The parables are frequently introduced with the formula, ‘The kingdom of God is like’.. Jesus uses images familiar with the daily life of the people in a simplistic style allowing his audience to understand with clarity the scenes described. It does not follow necessarily that his audience would have grasped the true meaning of the parables as suggested by Jesus’ own necessity to explain the parables to his own disciples.

In Matthew 13 Jesus tells seven parables; the parable of the sower, the wheat and tare, the mustard seed, the leavened bread, treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great value and a net thrown into the sea. These parables of Jesus are used to describe what the kingdom of God is like.

The parable of the sower reveals that there is a word to be communicated, a word to be scattered and diffused to all and this word is the word of the kingdom[11]. The seed scattered represented the word of the Kingdom while in the parable of the wheat and tares the seeds represents the sons of the Kingdom and the sons of the evil one. A striking contrast between both parables on how the kingdom of God is planted is shown in the distinction of what the seeds represent. The parables of the wheat and tares introduces an extra sower namely the devil who is in direct opposition to Jesus who sows the good seed. The kingdom is geographically expanded to mean the whole world which inclines that in one sense, everybody is in the kingdom whether they like it or not; but whether you are a son of the kingdom or a son of the evil one is determined by how one receives the word of the kingdom[12]. A true son of the kingdom is one that bears fruit and thus they are the ones planted by Jesus and those who do not bear fruit or fail to receive the words of the Kingdom are the ones planted by the evil one. Thus in this age
Evil is present and only at the end of the world will evil be completely rooted out when Jesus sends his angels to gather out of his kingdom all causes of sins and all lawbreakers and throw them into the fiery furnace. The parable of the net thrown into the sea also draws on the eschatology element of separating the good from the bad. The same interpretation is giving of angels separating the evil from the righteous at the end of the world thus revealing that the kingdom of God at present is filled with sons of the kingdom and sons of the evil one and there will be a coming judgment at the end of the world where the Son of man will uproot evil out of his kingdom and only his planted seeds will remain.

The parables of the mustard seed and the leavened bread portray a different dimension of what the kingdom of God is like. Both parables highlight the smallness of how the kingdom of God begins and then gradually it spreads and grows. Jesus’ contemporary audience may perhaps have expected God’s kingdom to be ushered in through majestic means where God’s kingdom would be from the start like the cedars of Lebanon and be seen from great distance[13]. To many of them the kingdom of God meant a restored Israel free from Roman rule. But Jesus ridiculed this majestic expectation of the inauguration of the kingdom of God. Although the end result of God’s kingdom is of large visibility yet its beginning is subtle and small gradually influencing its environment. Both of these parables may even be interpreted to represent Jesus’ own coming into the world. He is the king of the kingdom and he came not in a palace known throughout the Roman Empire but he came as a Galilean peasant, growing up like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty. Yet in the years of his ministry his fame spread and after his death and resurrection he has become like a mighty tree and his influence has spread throughout all the world.

The remaining two parables of the treasure hidden in a field and a pearl of great value reveals that the kingdom of God is of immense value. All that one has is not too great a price to pay in order to possess the kingdom of God. When one finds it, it instills great joy upon the soul and one can rightly fulfill that command which our Lord Jesus said elsewhere ‘go sell everything you have and follow me’. Or as Paul so eagerly put it ‘I count everything as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord’[14].  This does not mean that one can buy the kingdom or barter for the kingdom or negotiate for the kingdom. The kingdom of God is received without pay like a poor child and not as a business man.[15] The parable simply reveals that the kingdom of God is a treasure which is the most valuable treasure one can have and one should be like Paul who counted everything as loss for the sake of possessing that treasure, namely, Christ.

In Matthew 22:1-14 we have The parable of the guests invited to the wedding feast. This parable reveals the present reality of the Kingdom of God and also of a future judgement. The King represents God and the Son is Jesus. God throws a wedding feast for His Son and invites a number of guests who refused to attend the wedding feast. Those who refused to come represent the Pharisees, the elders and chief priest because in Matthew chapter 21 Jesus spoke of another parable where he concluded that ‘the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and giving to people producing its fruits’. In similar vein we see in the parable of the guests invited to the wedding feast that an invitation was giving to enter into the Kingdom of God but was rejected and therefore the King invited others who were not originally invited and the kingdom of God was given to them. God’s kingdom is present and an invitation is offered to people through the message of the gospel and people are free to reject it but there will be consequences. Their rejection will culminate in the judgment of the king who at the end of time will throw them into the fire.

Jesus illustrated what the kingdom of God is like through parables and the parables which we have considered thus far have revealed a diverse understanding of what the kingdom is like. Jesus uses a variety of illustration to communicate to his audience what the kingdom is like and perhaps we may take from his example that there is no one illustration or perspective which can do justice to the right depiction of what the Kingdom is. Although Jesus interprets some of his parables yet there are some which are left uninterrupted and it is left to our imaginations to ponder on what our Lord meant. The kingdom of God is likened to a man who sowed seeds, to a king who throws a wedding feast for His Son, as a man who found a treasure, like a grain of mustard seed, like a leaven, like a net thrown into the sea and a pearl of great price.


[1] Joachim Jeremias, New testament theology
[2] Caragounis in his work, “Kingdom of God” in dictionary of Jesus and the gospels notes that the concept of the Kingdom of God is synonymous with the Johannine concept of eternal life
[3] Some liberal theologians hold this view
[4] Colossians 1:13
[5] Hebrews 12:28
[6] Hebrews 6:5
[7] James 2:5
[8] John Piper, The kingdom of God is righteousness peace and Joy in the Holy Spirit
[9] Matthew 13:10-15
[10]Matthew 13:9
[11] Matthew uses the term the gospel of the Kingdom two times in his gospel in 4:23 and 9:35. Matthew uses it as a summary phrase of what Jesus preached throughout the towns and cities of Palestine.
[12] The soil represents the hearts of men. Those that fell on good soil were the ones who understood the word and believed and consequently were the ones who bore fruit.
[13] Shane Claiborne, Jesus for president.
[14] Philippians 3:8
[15] John Piper. The Kingdom of Heaven is a treasure

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