In the seven parables in Matthew 13 we find the most complete description in the entire Bible of what the body of Christ will look like in the church age we presently live in and how she will continue until the end of the age! In Matthew 13 we read about, by way of seven parables, the present spiritual reign of Christ while He is absent from the earth.
In Matthew 13 we find both hints of success and failure! Jesus Himself explains in the Parable of the Sower that the reception of the Gospel would only be a weak “one in four” – those sown beside the road, on the rocky places and amongst thorns did not bear any fruit! We also find, “while men are sleeping”, satanically sown imitation tares growing amongst the “good seed” planted by Jesus – “An enemy has done this!” But then we find a passionate and joyful merchant who sells all he has to buy the field where the treasure is hidden.
Let’s Back up a Moment…
The Old Testament prophets saw only the 1st and 2nd coming of Jesus the Messiah. They did not see the “church age” we presently live in, from Pentecost to the “Glorious Appearing”. With clear voice they prophesied of a “virgin with child”, who would be “born in Bethlehem”. He would be called Emmanuel – “God is with us”. This long awaited One would be “pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities” (Isa 53)
Surprisingly then, they jumped ahead to the Messiah’s Second Coming, as if the time in between was of little to no importance. They saw “His Day of Vengeance”, His robe “splattered with blood”, His winnowing fork in His hand to “separate the wheat from the chaff”. After His return to earth they describe the “Millennial Kingdom”, with the King ruling the nations from Jerusalem with a rod of iron. (Ps 2, Daniel 2, Rev 19, Zech 14) The wolf will lie down with the lamb and the infant will play near the hole of the cobra. (Isa 11) The person who does not reach the age of one hundred will be thought accursed. (Isa 65)
All these are signs of Millennial blessing! But the prophets did not see the church age! They give us no clues to the condition of the church between the 1st and 2nd Comings of the Messiah. Only in the NT do we find the portrayal of the church in this period. These descriptions are mostly found in the epistles and in the Matthew parables of Jesus. For a mature bride, we must grow up in our understanding of Matthew 13. We need to handle accurately the messages of these parables and discern the genuine, “Jesus inspired” view of His church.
”I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.”
To me the starting point in dealing with this chapter is verses 34-35:
All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.”
Jesus, in describing the church age from His departure to His Second Coming, tells the people that they are hearing things hidden since the foundation of the world. That means that they could not look back into the Old Testament to find descriptions of the church age and her condition until the harvest at the end of the age. If we keep this in mind we cannot use the millennial texts to cover “this present age”.
I have tried to get at this before but we are not to see this present age as one in which the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa 11) That is a Millennial text as surely as Zech. 14:9:
“And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one.”
”In that day” from this verse is so insignificant that it is easily overlooked but it is the KEY to understanding much of the Old Testament prophecies. It is announcing the day of the Lord, “the actual DAY” of His return to earth. Until then we are not to expect universal success or triumph of the Gospel but rather a gospel “witness” or testimony to spread over the entire globe!
Jesus told us that BOTH wheat and tares would grow up together until the harvest at the end of this age. He said that the kingdom of heaven would be like a net that takes in BOTH good fish and bad fish until it is full and then the fish are separated – at the end of the age!
He also said that the kingdom of heaven was like a mustard seed that would grow inordinately (abnormally) so that it would become a tree! Most of us have been taught that this means the universal success of the gospel as it travels into all the earth. From a small, insignificant beginning to world wide success and triumph. YET was not Jesus also just telling us that the kingdom of heaven would be a mixture of wheat and tares, good fish and bad until the end?
The reality is that Jesus was not predicting a spiritual success story but a breakdown of the church to remain in its “mustard seed form” and grew into a bizarre concoction of a great tree, in whose very branches nest the “birds of the air”. These same birds, it is so important to see, had already been explained BY JESUS in the Parable of the Sower as the “evil one”! I know it is difficult to renew your mind about this in one article but I offer this anyway!
In real life a mustard seed is an annual. It dies every year. It does not become a great tree. This is then either an incredible success story or hints at not just growth but growth with attending corruption! I believe the context of all the seven parables in this chapter render the second option the more accurate.
Just what is leaven?
We might just as well go on to the famous Parable of the Leaven. Short and sweet:
“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.”
Here again we are brought to either an incredible success story or growth with attending corruption! In this parable leaven is the focus. This makes it difficult to go with the incredible success story because every other time in the Bible leaven is tied to corruption!
Jesus told His disciples to “watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees…” Then they understood that he was not telling them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Mtt 16)
Luke 12:1 expresses the same thing: “Be on your guard against the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”
The apostle Paul had the same usage of leaven: “Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Cor. 5:8)
Please notice that the leaven is “hidden in the flour” by the woman, not unlike the tares (a type of corruption) that satan sowed amongst the wheat while men slept. This “hidden” evil, once introduced, would be dealt with by Christ’s angels at the end of the age. It is extremely hard to make leaven in this one instance something as a metaphor for good. I believe it cannot be done. Again, the context of all the seven parables in this chapter renders this the more credible response.
Leaven is corruption in and of itself. It is called “sourdough” in Martin Luther’s German translation and, as such, renders the whole batch sour and, if not baked quickly, also corrupt.
The task at this hour is to see clearly the kingdom and to live as those who have insight among the people in the last days.
“Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many.” (Daniel 11:33, 35; 12:3; 10)
It is a well known (and well worn) belief that Jesus will some day come back to earth “like a thief in the night”, catching many by surprise! Planes will suddenly fall out of the skies, school buses loaded with children will run off the road, etc. “Just like a thief would who is robbing your house”– He will come back again. That is pretty much the standard interpretation coming from the Evangelical church world-wide. His Second Coming is imminent. Or so the saying goes.
But upon further inquiry people are asking themselves if what they got taught in Sunday School still rings true today. Here is a time-tested look questioning that belief from one of Europe’s most prominent Bible scholars in the 1800s, Dr. Samuel P. Tregelles. Yours, Jeff Gilbertson
It may be well to point out the force of the passages which speak of the Lord’s coming “as a thief in the night”, which, we are constantly told, prove that the Lord intends His true saints to regard His advent as momentarily imminent. Such passages occur at Mtt 24:43; Lk 12:39, 40; 1 Thess 5:2; 2 Pet 3:10; and, Rev 16:15.
With regard to them all, it may be remarked that the emblem of “a thief” is obviously used to indicate not merely the unexpectedness of the coming, but its unwelcomeness! Further, this emblem implies the advent of one who comes to take away, not to give something to those whom he visits, for “the thief cometh not but for to steal, to kill, and to destroy.”
These considerations are surely sufficient by themselves to show at the first glance that it is not the Lord’s coming in its relation to the true believer, to him who “loves His appearing,” and to whom “grace shall be brought at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” that is indicated, but its relation to the false professor of the Name of Jesus, the “evil servant,” whose words in the parable, “My lord delayeth his coming,” show that he neither expected his lord’s return nor desired it.
But the point is not one of inference, however clear: the passage in 1 Thessalonians 5:4 says with the utmost plainness that the coming of the Lord “as a thief” does not bear this character to His people, but to those who are “in darkness;” for when they shall say Peace and safety,” etc. “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief.”
The passage in Luke 12:35-48 deserves special study:
35 “Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. 36 “Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. 37 “Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them. 38 “Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39 “But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 40 “You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.”
41 Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 43 “Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 44 “Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 “But if that slave says in his heart, `My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; 46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47 “And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
The Lord speaks first of the watchfulness of His true people (Luke 12:35-38). Next we find a hint that there will be some to whom His return will be unwelcome (Luke 12:39, 40). With an immediate apprehension of the fact that two differing classes of persons must be under mention, Peter puts the inquiry of verse 41. The answer makes it clear that two classes were intended; the “wise steward” (Luke 12:42-44) and “that (other) servant” (Luke 12:45-48), the representative of the false professing Church. There is a clear connection between the words “when ye think not” (Luke 12:40) and “when he looketh not for him” (Luke 12:46). The Lord does not place before His true, loving, faithful servants His advent as an event to occur at an hour when they think not: these words of caution, though spoken to all, are intended only for the “tares” that Satan has mingled with the “wheat.” It is the rule in Scripture, in dealing with mixed bodies, to address words of warning to all, which are only meant to apply to some of those addressed, it being left to the individual conscience to make the application (Compare Heb. 6:4-9).
One of the most urgent issues for the church is to clear her head of the fog of “muddled thinking” about prophecy. Many believers go on about their days as if prophecy was of little to no value; as if something that God wanted us to know about in advance BUT because it is portrayed by “mysterious symbols” or “figurative language” is thereby too complicated for “mere mortals” to ever understand and therefore has no meaning! (i.e. think of the books of Revelation or Daniel) Nothing could be further from the truth!
”If prophecy was never designed to be understood, there could have been no reasonable object in giving it.“ C. Russell
I don’t want to scare you with talk of figures like a “lion with eagle’s wings” or a “leopard with four heads and four wings” but that is what God has chosen in His Word to use to describe the future. Its God’s Word, people! Instead of quoting you John 3:16 how about if I use 2 Tim 3:16:
”Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness”
With that as a precursor I now offer 3 insights to help our understanding of His Glorious Return.
1. End time prophecy is “Jerusalem-centric”.
Abraham, by faith, made his earthly home is a strange land, living in tents – as did his descendants Isaac and Jacob – because they were “looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb 11:10) That city is called in Scripture “the Heavenly Jerusalem”, the city of the living God. (Heb 12:22)
It is not called the “Heavenly New York” or “Paris” or “Beijing”. This city will be our eternal dwelling place, the same place Jesus talked about when He said that He was going to “My Father’s house”, a place with many mansions.
”In My Father’s House are many rooms… I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2-3)
This same city in the book of Revelation is called the “New Jerusalem“ and we are told by Jesus that it is “the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from My God.” (Rev 3:12) John the apostle also saw this same city, what he called the Holy City: “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Rev 21:2)
Directly after this vision he heard a loud voice coming from the throne in heaven declaring:
“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.” (Rev 21:3)
We don’t go up to Heaven to live forever with God, sitting on a cloud somewhere playing our harps, BUT He comes down to us with the New Jerusalem! This Holy, Heavenly City will descend out of heaven and will settle upon this “renewed earth” (Rev 21:1) forever! The new Jerusalem will simply replace the old Jerusalem!
Therefore all prophecy can ultimately be called “Jerusalem–centric” because as goes Jerusalem goes the end of this age. What happens in Jerusalem, Israel, near the Mediterranean Sea, sets the tone, pace and mood for the 2nd coming of Jesus!
2. 1967 and the Six Day War – Israel reunified Jerusalem.
“In that day… the inhabitants of Jerusalem [will] again dwell on their own sites in Jerusalem.” (Zech 12:6)
Most believers know that Israel became a nation again after WW II on a single day – May 14, 1948. However, Jerusalem remained a divided city after that time, partially under Jewish control and partially under Jordanian. As a result of the Six Day War, the entire city of Jerusalem and its holy sites came under Jewish control for the first time since A.D. 70. For nearly 2000 years Israel was not a nation and had no President or territory. The Jews were literally scattered over the face of the earth as part of God’s judgment against them.
“Son of man, when the house of Israel was living in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds… Therefore I poured out My wrath on them for the blood which they had shed on the land, because they had defiled it with their idols. Also I scattered them among the nations and they were dispersed throughout the lands.” (Ezekiel 36:17-19)
The tragic events of Hitler’s Nazi Germany created an unprecedented world climate that allowed for the Jews to return to their native homeland – a much prophesied event in the Old Testament. (Isa. 11:11-12; 14:1; 66:7-8; Ezek. 36:24-28; 37:1-12)
Jerusalem is NOW the capital of Israel (under Israeli law) although many other nations do not recognize this fact. But God recognizes it and in effect the “pause button” was taken off His “Prophetic Time Clock”, setting the stage for the Return of Christ in Glory!
It is very hard to get around the fact that Jerusalem is now situated again as the capital of Israel and is in position to activate God’s Prophetic Time Clock! Either Jerusalem will soon see in the near future the New Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven“ or there MUST BE ANOTHER dispersion and scattering of Israel “once again” to the four corners of the earth; where they will “once again” endure their punishment for their iniquities; so that they can “once again” return to their native land!
I believe the most logical and accurate interpretation to these recent events with Israel is to imagine that Jesus will return to earth for the 2nd time in the next 50 years – for that would allow for “one generation” to literally live through all these end time events, from 1967 onwards to His Return.
3. The Fulfillment of the Great Commission
“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Mtt 24:14)
The last piece of this “End Times Puzzle” that I want to highlight is the incredible timing of the Gospel witness going to the ends of the earth. Both Campus Crusade for Christ and YWAM President’s have publicly stated that they believe the Great Commission will be completed by 2020! (Dr. Steve Douglas and Loren Cunningham, the respective Presidents of the two largest mission agencies on earth!)
Wycliffe Bible Translators have a plan in place to finish Bible translation for every people group by 2025, which come downs to only 200 million people (or 4% of the world’s population)! Interestingly, even if these 200 million people were to obtain the Scriptures, most of them are illiterate and could not read it anyway. For this reason, missionaries have long looked into reproducing the Bible orally or through stories. This way 1000’s are getting converted and passing the message on in their tribes through the spoken Word!
I don’t believe we can take too lightly these words from Jesus Christ. HE SAID, when asked about the “end of the age” by HIS DISCIPLES, that it would not come to pass UNTIL the Gospel would be preached in the whole world as a witness (or testimony) to all nations AND THEN the end of the age will come. (Mtt 24/Mk 13)
But FIRST Jerusalem would need to be re-settled by the Jews; who would need to re-build their Temple; so that they can re-institute the Sabbath and the sacrifices (Daniel 9:27, 12:11); so that the Antichrist can then set himself up as God in the Holy Place (2 Thess 2:4, Mtt 24:15); so that his image can be worshiped by the whole world (Rev 13) which brings the city into a world-wide controversy whereby they experience the hatred and wrath of all nations (Zech 14:2); so that Christ can come to her defense (Zech 14:3-4) and usher in His “Triumphant Return” to the city He loves and be crowned her King! (Mtt 23:39, Zech 14:9)
Lord Jesus, we wait for THAT DAY… ”When He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.” (2 Thess 1:10)
Until the End,