Friday, October 12, 2012

The Gradual Kingdom

Some Christians believe that the kingdom of God is not for now but for a later time, and that when it comes, it will come suddenly. But the New Testament speaks of it in a very different way. Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). He was announcing the good news that the kingdom of God had now come into the world. And it has never left.

Now let’s take a look at the nature of the kingdom, whether it comes suddenly, as some people think, or gradually. In keeping with the way Jesus began His ministry, the parables He taught are mostly about the kingdom of God. The parables in Matthew 13 are explicitly about the kingdom, and in them we can see something of how it comes.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared.

So the servants of the owner came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?”

He said to them, “An enemy has done this.”

The servants said to him, “Do you want us then to go and gather them up?”

But he said, “No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-30)
First, notice that the kingdom is likened to a seed that is sown. That is a very good indication that the kingdom of God comes gradually because that is the nature of a seed. No one sows a seed and expects it to sprout immediately into a full-grown plant. That happens over time.

Notice also that in this parable the man sowed seed and then he slept. The day passed into night and the man went to bed. “While he slept” his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. The presence of “while” indicates the passage of time.

Then, when the grain sprouted and the crop began to come up, the tares also appeared. This did not happen immediately but gradually, as is the manner of seeds. They do not suddenly shoot up as full-grown plants. They sprout and then they continue to develop. The problem here was that the tares were also sprouting. The servants came to the master and wanted to rip the tares out of the ground. But the master did not permit them to do that because he did not want the wheat to be damaged in the process.

Now look at what the master said: “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest, I will say to the reapers” (v. 30). There is a process of growth and a period of waiting between the time the seed sprouts and the time of harvest comes. It is not all at once but happens gradually, over time. That is exactly how it is with the kingdom of God, because this is a parable that is explicitly about the kingdom.

Another brief parable follows in Matthew 13:31-32: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”

Here again, the kingdom is likened to a seed. Again notice that there is a process of growth, indicated by the words “when it is grown.” This shows the passage of time. Also, note that it “becomes” a tree. It is not sown as a tree but as a seed. However, as it grows, at some point it develops into the form of a tree, and one day becomes large enough to host the birds of the air. This is how it is with the kingdom of God. It began as a seed and has been gradually growing up into a tree that is large enough for the nations of the world to come and find a home.

A third, very brief parable follows, but this time the kingdom is likened to leaven. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened” (v. 33). Here again, we see that the kingdom comes gradually, just as leaven gradually works its way throughout the dough until the whole lump is completely leavened. This does not happen instantly but gradually.

In Mark 4, we find another “seed” parable about the kingdom: “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29).

The man sows the seed, but it does not immediately sprout into a plant ready for harvest. It is the season of sowing, not of reaping. Days and nights pass. The seed sprouts and then grows (the man does not know how it happens, he just sows the seed). Note the progression — first, the blade, then the head, then after that the full grain, then the grain ripens, and then it is ready for harvest. It all happens gradually, not all at once. That is what the kingdom of God is like. It does not come suddenly but gradually: first the blade, then the head, then the full grain in the head, then the grain ripens and it is ready for harvest.

The kingdom of God has already been sown in the earth, and though we cannot say exactly where we are in the process, it is clear that we are not yet at harvest time — that will not come until the end of this present age when King Jesus returns. All we know is that we are living somewhere in between the season of sowing the kingdom and the season when it is fully ripened and ready for harvest. That is, we are in the season when the kingdom grows and increases. It happens gradually, not suddenly.

The seed has been sown and the kingdom has begun in the world, though it may not always seem that way to us. However, regardless of how things may appear to us at any given moment, the truth remains that it has already begun and continues to grow and increase, because that is what taught. What we observe in the world must eventually line up with the truth of the Word.

So, whatever we might read in the daily newspapers or see on CNN or Fox News, it does not at all disprove what Jesus taught in His parables. It does not mean that the “seed” of the kingdom has not yet been sown or that the “wheat” is not yet present and growing in the world. It only shows that harvest time has not yet come and that the tares are still growing along with the wheat.

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