Lecture 5: Kingdom Parables
Course: Life of Christ
Lecture: Kingdom Parables
This is the 5th lecture in the online series of lectures on the Life of Christ by Dr. Darrell Bock. Recommended Reading includes: Jesus According to Scripture: restoring the Portrait from the Gospels by Bock, Baker, 2002 and Jesus in Context by Darrel Bock and Greg Herrick, eds., Baker, 2005 and Jesus Under Fire by Mike Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, Zondervan, 1995.
The Kingdom Parables
Matthew 13 and the kingdom parables; we will cover Mark, chapter 4 through 8 and also Luke 8:4 – 9:17. Matthew and Mark run fairly parallel through this unit as does Luke except that Luke lacks Mark 6:45 – 8:26, of what has been called the Great Omission of Luke. This is on the assumption that Luke and Mark know each other and yet there is this unit missing in Luke. And the question is why and sometimes the position is taken of simply being lot of duplication in this section of Mark, which is true but it doesn’t explain every unit in the section. That could be the explanation. Luke says, well there’s enough duplication in here, I’ll just jump to this next section. We don’t really know why this section is lacking. Some people even wonder whether there was one version of Mark that Luke had access to and then there was finally the canonical version which had additional material of which Luke’s copy didn’t have, sometimes called proto-Mark.
The issue of this section expresses how the disciples come to realize who Jesus was and developing understanding of trust in him. We will make some decisive moves toward Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah. So Jesus explains the kingdom and the special character in this section and we also get more controversy and rejection. So on the one hand, Jesus is explaining to his disciples what he is doing and as Jesus is demonstrating those actions in public, he’s getting reactions. Matthew has eight kingdom parables; Mark has five kingdom parables while Luke has two. Luke distributes kingdom parables because he has two more in Luke 13, so he ends up with a total of four. The Sower represents the key parable to the kingdom because it shows the responses to obstacles of the kingdom message. Those are: Satan, persecution, and the distractions of normal life, particularly the cares of life and the pursuit of riches. If you think about what distracts people from being good disciples, a large list can be shown. The parables are designed to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom to insiders and conceal in judgement to outsiders. Opposing the message of the Gospel is risky because there is always the risk that you shut yourself off from more revelation as a result. So you start with the insiders first, even though it takes work for them to grasp what’s going on. Mark speaks of the secret of the kingdom, a kingdom of divinely directed growth leading to blessing and judgement. The picture is of a kingdom that goes from small to large. The mystery is present but not completely new because the Old Testament saints longed to see what is being described here. This is different in how some dispensationalists (This word reflects a view that biblical history is best understood as a series of dispensations, or separated time-periods, in the Bible.) handle mystery. But I don’t think that mystery is new revelation. Some mysteries are things that are revealed but are not completely understood or appreciated. It comes from the Old Testament idea of a dream that is interpreted, it exists but you just don’t understand it.
The fruit that we see in the Parable of the Sower is varied in Matthew and Mark, but there’s a single yield in Luke. Both of them take a receptive heart, but they make the point that different people have different levels of fruit, at least Matthew and Mark do. Luke is simply interested in the fact that sometimes it takes root and there is a product. The Parable of the Lamp and Measure are ways of saying that revelation is like light. The role of the revelation of the kingdom is to give illumination. Mark warns us to watch the measure by which we measure. The seed is pictured as the kingdom and it is a mysteriously divine cause of growth to harvest, the fruit which is the design of the seed. So, again, the kingdom starts out small and end of being comprehensive. This is contrary to Jewish expectation which thought that the kingdom would start out big. So Jesus’ teaching of the kingdom from the very beginning gives the idea of starting out small. This is not the kingdom presentation as it comes out of the Old Testament. The kingdom program of Jesus is not merely built on the Old Testament; there is a combination of old and the new. The small nature of the kingdom is something that comes with Jesus and is already present and Jesus is announcing something new with regard to that kingdom.
This tells us that the kingdom is mixed with the world until the end and that the devil is also at work planting seeds of evil in the world alongside the seeds of the kingdom. The kingdom operates and makes a claim on the entire world. There is a lot of sloppy thinking about the kingdom in the church. There’s an idea that it is the role of the church to take over the world in the framework of this history. This is a form of a Calvinist cultural mandate which has recently misdirected the church on a lot of things. There is a mission mandate to take the message of the Gospel into the world and to challenge the world on how it lives. The goal is not to take over world institutions; it may want to influence them but it is not to engage in the power politics that goes on in the world. The place where the kingdom is supposed to be particularly manifested is in the communities of God. The place where you are to see kingdom principles at work is in the community of the people of God. That, alongside the preaching becomes a testimony to the world. It’s a missing link in the cultural mandate in the way in which some forms of Christ and culture work. In 13:24, ‘he presented them with another parable: the kingdom of heaven is like a person who sowed good seed in this field. But while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed wees among the wheat and went away. When the plants sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared. So the slaves of the owner came and said to him, sir didn’t you sow good see in your field? Then where did the weeds come from. He said, an enemy has done this. So the slaves replied do you want us to go and gather them? But he said, no, since in gathering the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At the harvest time I will tell the reapers, first collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, and then gather the wheat into my barn.’
The judgement will be the sorting out at the end. Jesus interprets this in 13:36, ‘the one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world and the good seed are the people of the kingdom.’ The field is not merely the church. The kingdom is a word sown in the world so it makes a claim on the entire world, but it doesn’t force itself on the world. It presents itself to the world. ‘The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. As the weeds are collected and burned with fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom everything that causes sin as well as all lawbreakers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.’ This is the end of Revelation, but in the meantime we are dealing with a growing kingdom that hasn’t come of age yet. The judgement will come when Jesus decides.
The Way of the Kingdom
Interestingly during the medieval period, the church forced people to accept Christ and if they didn’t those people were killed. That was wrong or rather satanic inspired evil. Often we try to force the hand of the kingdom in a way, yet a way the kingdom is not designed to be presented. The church doesn’t have the right to impose itself on the rest of creation. That’s not the model Jesus is demonstrating. The kingdom does not necessarily equal to what we understand as the church. Note: if the kingdom makes a claim on the world, then you need to be engaged with the world in order to do the mission of the kingdom. So an effective kingdom, a place where we should see the kingdom at work and being effective is in the church community. These are the people who have embraced it. But there is an accountability that comes to the entire world. Another implication of this, if there is a kingdom claim on the entire world, then that means everyone is ultimately accountable to the kingdom program regardless of how they respond to it. The claim is on everybody. The role of Christians is not to create a theocracy; this is not the role of the church. The church is to be an agent of persuasion in the world; this involves an engagement, not force. In the Gospel mandate, we often go from Gospel to culture and we miss what is going on in the communities, themselves. The goal is to make sure that a kingdom ethic is being modeled in the church in such a way that as you experience culture; you have a place that is an audio visual of what is being talked about.
A lot of people who lead evangelicals on the religious right are practically in practice post-millennials (this is a theological doctrine that states the second coming of Christ will occur after the millennium instead of before it). These parables are suggesting that the post-millennial model is flawed. Engagement with the culture is what progressive dispensationalism is all about. (Note that progressive dispensationalism is a variation of traditional dispensationalism, dispensationalists view the dispensations as chronologically successive. But progressive dispensationalists view the dispensations as progressive stages in salvation history. This is not related to progressive Christianity.) There is a tone of engagement, a way of appeal and a way of interacting and I think a post millennial influenced model. They have thought through the implications of what this parable is saying. So we are going to have to live with this mix until the judgement comes. Our calling is to represent God faithfully in the world; that’s a significantly difference. And note that the growth in one sense of the kingdom, are the people who opt in and participate in it, but alongside of it, you’ve got this other sphere, the world which is doing its own thing and then there is the contrast between the two spheres. The post-millennialists are arguing for the process; and so are some Amillennialists. (Amillennialism involves the rejection of the belief that Jesus will have a literal thousand year physical reign on the earth. This rejection contrasts with premillennial and some post millennial interpretations of chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation.) Today, there is a danger that the church is losing it prophetic voice in thinking through how we do what we do. A question to consider: why the second coming? Is Jesus returning simply to say that you guys did a great job, but now I’m in charge? Or is the impression, he comes back to really set things right? Note that the world has its own sphere of influence, doing its own thing and becoming more radical at the same time. The conflict and pressure in some respects is rising. In the mitts of a kingdom message saying to the world, you are accountable to God. What does Jesus say the likely fate of a disciple? What do you have to be prepared for? It is persecution. There is a difference between being faithful, pursuing Biblical values and understanding and that the pursuit of Biblical values may not always be successful.
I’m called to be faithful and that means that I should pursue justice and be concerned about things that reflect Biblical value. That means that I should care about my stewardship in the world. I still pursue those as part of what God has called me to do and to be in a culture that allows me to engage on those issues with people who may or may not agree with me. I still have all those responsibilities as a faithful Christian, but that doesn’t mean that I pursue it in a way that insists that I have to win. My calling is to be faithful in carrying that out. But the sovereignty of how it turns out is not my business in one sense. You are called to witness in the totality in what God calls you to be. Don’t equate success with political victory. Equate success with being faithful and carrying out your values and in representing them. It may be that faithfully carrying out what God has called you to do, in the context of political defeat, may actually serve the kingdom more than having political victory. Note that one of the lessons we have learned historically is that sometimes when we win, we lose. And why do we lose? It’s because we handle power poorly. In the mitts of that process, sometimes in the way the church is to function as catalyst in that process, we tend to think individually, not corporately or we tend to think politically, in terms of the political party rather than corporately. So the church is this entity that operates and if I’m supposed to ask people where they are supposed to see the kingdom at work today; I’m not going to take them to the world. Where should I be able to take them? To the church! Therefore, I should be able to go as that is the place we are supposed to see evidence of reconciled relationships. The church is where people should see Christians engaging with the poor in a proper kind of way. It is the place where people should see evidence of justice being exercised and justice being called for. That’s where people are supposed to see sensitivity to the way in which we deal with creation over which God has given us stewardship. That’s where we should it. But because we tend to leap over this and think about how we as a church model it and engage it, but go directly into confronting the world, we miss a risk of providing a positive model for what it is we are appealing to the world to be.
When a church is basically a ‘holy huddle’ or a great time to be singing praise to God, we may be missing the dynamic relational dimension and example of what the church community could be doing in contributing to society. Reach out to places that are down trodden, poor and where the destitute abode. These places are everywhere; they are in every city and town in the world. They are usually the worst of the worst places, where drugs and prostitution proliferate. There are even non-Christian institutions in place trying to help; why not go there and serve? This represents a different kind of model of how we engage the world. We somehow place these situations into a type of contextualized structures that become off limits to the church. In thinking about what the kingdom is and what God’s people are to do in the kingdom world, sorting out what is going on is important. The level of church commitment and attendance is different all over the world, but that doesn’t change the fact of what the church can do. We need to sort out God’s expectations of us; he has called us to be faithful in carrying out the message and living out the values both individually and corporately. You know that we often portray this as a spiritual war; there’s a danger using the metaphor of war. Note that the goal of war is to win territory and kill the enemy and then take control. What is the goal of the Christian in the world in reference to the enemy? One part is to love the enemy and to win the enemy over at a person level which is the point of mission. If that is the goal, does that change the meanings? So when we think about spiritual warfare as a metaphor, you’ve got to articulate how it’s different than normal warfare. Your goal as a Christian is much more complicated. It’s easier to just bomb somebody.
The Mustard Seed and the Yeast
Matthew 13:31 is an example of small to large. This is an example of a small growing to become a tree. The background to this is like Ezekiel 17:23 which speak of a sprig being pulled, out of which a tree will come where birds will nest that reflects the Davidic House. It displays an interesting parallel kind of image. Then we have the Parable of the Yeast which again reflects something that is small but increases in size. What we see in Matthew 13:35 in allusion to Psalm 78 says, ‘I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’ So clearly Jesus is doing something revelatory. Look in verse 44, ‘The kingdom of God is like a treasure, hidden in a field that a person found and hid. Then because of joy he went and sold all that he had and bought that field. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he found a pearl of great value, he went out and sold everything he had and bought it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was cast into the sea that caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, they pulled it ashore, sat down, and put the good fish into containers and threw the bad away. It will be this way at the end of the age. Angels will come and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then he said to them, therefore every expert in the law who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and old.’ Note that the kingdom teaching is a combination of things you’ve seen before and new things, which is why Jesus and his ministry is now going to lunch on a huge teaching program for his disciples. To help them put the fresh parts of the package together of what they have already been exposed to. This is where we get the rejection scene in Nazareth in Matthew and in Mark, followed by the death of John the Baptist and the discussion of John the Baptist.
It is at this point in Mark and in Matthew that we get the beginning of a breaking in of a new series of miracles. In Luke and Mark, we get the four miracle sequence we talked about in the last lecture: the calming of the storm, the exorcism of the demonic, the healing of woman and the raising of Lazarus’ daughter. The question at the end of the storm scene is important. The driving question for the disciples is the question of who this person is. It’s a ‘from the earth up’ question. Who is this that is able to calm the winds and the ways? The demonic in the gentile setting is told to say what God has done and he goes out talking about what Jesus did. It doesn’t seem that the demonic has done anything terribly bad here. He can’t talk about what God has done without what Jesus did. The two are inseparable in terms of what has happened to him. Jairus and the woman, we talk about the scope of faith and the call to silence because Jesus has to do his work which shows what he is about without the attention from the miracles. In Mark, the miracle series do not lead to belief. In Luke the miracles sequence and make an impression on the disciples. We get in Matthew the rejection at Nazareth and the commissioning of the twelve. We see word and service together and we get Herod asking the question, who might Jesus be; John the Baptist, come back from the dead which raises the question, if Jesus is John the Baptist come back from the dead, it is raising the possibility that an execution or death may not stop the program of God. The death of John the Baptist shows that there is opposition to God’s plan. John the Baptist was challenging the nation; it wasn’t where it should have been. The leadership shouldn’t be where it is. It was a rebuke to the leadership. They thought if they kill John the Baptist, the prophet, we may be able to stop this religious fervor. We may need to prepare for the same thing someday. In regards to Jesus’ death, as he was coming to the point of being noticed as much more than John the Baptist; so does one need revelation to figure that he is next to die? And for someone who has presuppositions about the Christian faith, you don’t have to deposit a supernatural understanding in order for Jesus to have an understanding of his coming death.
The Five Thousand
We get the five thousand fed which is a picture of the need through which Jesus and the disciples help provide. It’s a foretaste of the banquet, it’s the sheep being given a shepherd, it is Jesus showing compassion, and it is provision for God’s people like we see in the desert. We get these two things juxtaposed. We get Herod’s banquet where John the Baptist is put to death. We get Jesus’ banquet where food and life are represented as being provided. There’s a miracle of hope, the only one in all four Gospels. At this point, Luke drops out of Mark’s storyline until we get the declaration by Peter. There are more miracles and controversy. We have the walking on the water in Matthew 14:22-33.
Walking on the Water
We need to give Peter some credit here: he had the nerve to get out of the boat and actually take several steps on the water. Peter walks out and does great until he gets distracted. The event in Matthew leads to an appreciation of who Jesus is, because of the control of creation. This is from the ‘earth upwards’ in Matthew and interestingly in the same passage in Mark 6:45-52, it becomes a test as Mark highlights the lack of understanding in the event. What I think is going on here is at the time in which this event happened they weren’t able to make sense of how Jesus was able to do this. That is what Mark highlights. As a result of this event, they came to a deeper appreciation of who Jesus was and this is what Matthew highlights. He highlights the product of the event while Mark is highlighting the lack of understanding during the event. This is an interesting contrast between the two passages, yet the same event. It illustrates that there can be one action going through an event and a completely different reaction as a result of what the event generates. Both are historical! A different time frame reflects the historicity of the two. This also shows the complexity of what it is to work with historicity. Because a writer writing about these events has the choice of focusing in on how it felt at the time or what grew out of it.
Next comes the Gennesaret summary, the contact with Jesus brings healing. We get the passage in Matthew 17 and in Mark 7 that talks about traditions tied to cleanliness. Jesus emphasizes that it isn’t what goes in the mouth but what comes out. We get Jesus’ rebuke about ignoring the word for selfless interest in case of property or lack of love. In Matthew, this is seen as speech but in Mark it has to do with our behavior in general. We have seven things listed as vices in Mark. In Matthew, we get the disciples speak of Jesus offending and rebuking the disciples whereas in Mark when we get to the end of this scene, he makes the statement, ‘by this Jesus declared all foods clean’ even though it was years before the church realized it. What incident am I referring to? Acts 10 where Peter was told that all things were clean. So 7:19 is a narrative remark by Mark about the implications of what Jesus was saying.
Miracles and the Request for Signs
Then there is the Syrophoenician woman, another example of humble faith by a gentile, which is commented. She comes out of Tyre and Sidon and understands that Jesus is the Son of David. She understands that she has the rights only to the crumbs. This attitude is very different than the attitude of many people today, even Christians. What we see in the healings is Jesus removing impediments for people. He also wishes to control how important miracles are perceived in his ministry. They are not the point of the ministry but point to something else. The four thousand are fed in what I call a doublet. This is a mirror event that mirrors something earlier to see that something has been learned by reproducing the event and seeing the later action. It seems that in the feeding of the four thousand, nothing has been learned. The reactions are all the same. Interestingly, Jesus has been preforming miracles and then someone walks up and says to him, gives us a sign! They were probably asking for a specific kind of sign that was associated with the coming of the Eschaton. This leads Jesus to rebuke them because they want to dictate how God does things. Next is the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees or Leven of Herod in Mark. The disciples do not understand initially of where the provision is coming from. The disciples need to appreciate and never forget where spiritual provisions are and aren’t. It’s part of the new era that Jesus has brought about. The blind man comes next and this is the only gradual miracle that uses spit and has a gradual coming of sight. Most every other miracle happened immediately. This reveals what’s going on with the disciples. Things are slowly coming into focus and it’s no accident that this is happening right before we get to Peter’s confession of Christ.
We get continued work in the face of opposition which is beginning to lead the disciples to appreciate and realize who Jesus is. We are led into the declaration of Peter in Matthew 16:13 and now we get the remainder of the lesson of understanding and appreciating that Jesus is the Messiah. He is at the hub of what God is doing. He is the central point in their arrival of the new era. Jesus can now begin to shape that understanding and he’s got to do it by saying before there is glory there has to be suffering.