- If you Google “Royal Wedding,” you’ll come up with about 790 million search results — more than twice as many results as if you Google “Jesus.”
- Approximately 3 billion people watched the royal wedding, give or take 500 million, according to the New York Times.
- 22.7 million Americans tuned in, according to Nielsen, compared to an average of 24 million who watch “American Idol” each week.
- About 1,900 guests entered Westminster Abbey, including 40 invited heads of state. Not invited: the U.S. President and First Lady; Sarah Ferguson, the ex-wife of Prince Andrew; and Joan Rivers.
- Estimated cost of the wedding varies widely, but most guesses come in at $16 million to $64 million; the cakes alone cost a cool $80,000.
- The negative impact on the British economy due to lost business because of a declared bank holiday: as much as $10 billion.
I share this trivia because it demonstrates our fascination with royalty — even in nations like the United States that shun the very concept of a monarchy. But our intense interest in such matters is nothing new. In the days of Jesus, the wedding of a king’s son was the focal point for one of the Messiah’s most telling parables about the kingdom of heaven.
26 “The kingdom of God is like this,” He said. “A man scatters seed on the ground;
27 he sleeps and rises—night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows—he doesn’t know how.
28 The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the ripe grain on the head.
29 But as soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because harvest has come.”
Mark is the only gospel writer who records this parable, which Jesus tells after explaining the parable of the sower to His disciples (Mark 4:13-20) and after admonishing them to share His teachings with others (Mark 4:21-25). Commentators like Herbert Lockyer believe this parable “can be regarded as supplementary to the parable of The Sower, being designed to complete the history of the growth of the good seed which fell on the good ground. It is one of the three parables which reveal the mysteries of the Kingdom of God in terms of a sower’s work” (All the Parables of the Bible).
The central theme of this parable is that God is sovereign over His kingdom. Christ’s disciples are to labor faithfully in His fields, but it is God who gives the growth (see 1 Cor. 3:5-8).
The central character in this parable is the man who “scatters seed on the ground” (Mark 4:26). This represents all those whom God uses to establish His kingdom in the hearts of men. Christ has finished the work of redemption and has given to His followers the responsibility of carrying the gospel message to the entire world (Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15). God the Father draws people to Christ and grants them everlasting life through the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, bringing the spiritually dead to new life in Christ. As Matthew Henry writes, “… we know not how the Spirit by the word makes a change in the heart, any more than we can account for the blowing of the wind, which we hear the sound of, but cannot tell whence it comes, or whither it goes” (Matthew Henry Unabridged). On this side of heaven, believers will never fully understand how God works to populate His kingdom, yet we are called to faithfully spread the good news of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23, 9:35, 24:14; Mark 1:14).
According to Herbert Lockyer in All the Parables of the Bible, “Our Lord was directing His disciples to the three stages of The Kingdom of God:”
1. The blade, or the kingdom in mystery (the church age);
2. The ear, or the kingdom in manifestation throughout the millennial kingdom;
3. The full corn, or the kingdom in its majestic perfection after God creates new heavens and a new earth.
While other commentators apply this parable to the believer’s personal spiritual growth, Lockyer’s interpretation seems to fit Jesus’ other parables of the kingdom of heaven. The Jews in Jesus’ day are expecting the kingdom to come in a singular, dramatic event. Yet Jesus teaches through His parables that the kingdom of heaven is both a present reality and a future hope, growing to full maturity over a long period of time.
Let’s look more closely at other elements in this parable:
- The seed. Most certainly this is “the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). As Jesus explains following the parable of the sower, “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11) – the good news that the kingdom has come in the Person of Jesus the Messiah and that all may enter into the kingdom by faith in Him, the Word (Logos, John 1:1).
- The ground. As in the parable of the sower, the ground symbolizes the human heart. The ground cannot sow and it cannot reap, but it may receive the seed. The starting place of the kingdom of heaven is the heart captivated by God. When Jesus says, “The soil produces a crop by itself” (v. 28), we are not required “to suppose that our Saviour meant to say that the earth had any productive power by itself, but only that it produced its fruits not by the power of man. God gives it its power…. So religion in the heart is not by the power of man” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament).
- The mystery of the growth. The sower sleeps, rises and does not know how the seed bursts forth into life and fruitfulness. In the same way, we do not understand the mysterious work of God in the hearts of men and women. Nor can we fully fathom His work in bringing the kingdom to full maturity. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways…. For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9).
- The harvest. This may be looked upon as the consummation of all things (Matt. 13:39) – “the most glorious consummation when with the devil forever vanquished, and sin completely destroyed, and the emergence of a new heaven and a new earth, Jesus will surrender all things to the Father” (All the Parables of the Bible).
Just as Christ’s kingdom will grow to full maturity, God’s design for His children is that “we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, [growing]into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness” (Eph. 4:13).
This column first appeared Nov. 3, 2009, in Baptist Press
By Rob Phillips
One of the more humbling experiences from my days in the corporate world was being told that my reserved seat on the company jet was revoked at the last minute to make room for a late-arriving executive. Not to worry. I was offered the one remaining seat, located in the plane’s lavatory, where the toilet came equipped with a safety belt. Rather than cool my heels on the tarmac, I swallowed my pride and took my place on the porcelain throne.
It reminded me of the parable Jesus told in Luke 14:7-11, rebuking those who reclined at the choicest seats at a wedding banquet. Even more, it brought to mind the future humiliation Jesus said would come to those boasting of a place in the kingdom of heaven, yet being cast out. Though the kingdom is open to all who receive Christ by faith, the day is coming when those who falsely stake their claim to the kingdom will be unceremoniously shown the door.
From Jesus’ own lips, it appears there are at least three types of people who will be cast out of the kingdom of heaven:
1. Those that trust their lineage. In Jesus’ day there was great expectation the Messiah would come – a charismatic military and political leader who would restore Israel to its Davidic glory. Overlooking the necessity of the Suffering Servant, many Jews wrongly assumed that when the kingdom of heaven came, they would be welcomed as citizens by reason of their Abrahamic heritage.
Jesus confronts that false notion in Matthew 8:11-12, after healing a Roman centurion’s servant: “I tell you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom [unbelieving Jews] will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Entrance into the kingdom was not – and is not – gained through natural birth. The apostle Paul, who wished himself accursed for the sake of his Jewish countrymen, nevertheless made it clear in Romans 9:6, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” Jesus was even more to the point: “[Y]ou must be born again” (John 3:7).
Salvation is not a matter of race, national boundaries or language. As the apostle John noted, people of every “tribe and language and people and nation” are standing before God’s throne in heaven (Rev. 5:9). How did they get there? The Lamb of God was “slaughtered” and “redeemed people for God” by His blood (Rev. 5:8).
2. Those that trust their location. In the parable of the wheat and tares (Matt. 13:24-30), those of God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom live side by side and are practically indistinguishable. Only at harvest time, when the tares stand ramrod straight but bear no edible fruit, and the wheat is bowed with heads of golden grain, does the harvester separate them. The wheat goes into the barn but the tares are burned.
In the parable of the dragnet (Matt. 13:47-50), good and bad fish swim in the same waters and are taken in the same net, yet they are meticulously separated on the shore. The good fish are gathered into baskets while the bad fish are tossed aside.
Many people, by virtue of their “location” in a church, believe their association with Christianity will save them. But just as living in a garage doesn’t make you a car, joining a church doesn’t make you a Christian. In fact, only the trained eye of Christ knows the wheat from the tares and the good fish from the bad.
Some are so experienced at playing the game, they believe the lie that their goodness merits eternal life. They will be startled on judgment day when they are separated eternally from God. They will argue that they preached in Jesus’ name, cast out demons and performed miracles. Jesus does not deny their works but replies, “I never knew you! Depart from Me” (Matt. 7:23).
The matter of our eternal destiny is not decided by whether we know Jesus – that is, whether we call ourselves Christians – but whether He knows us because we have confessed Him as Savior and Lord.
3. Those that trust their dirty laundry. In the parable of the wedding banquet (Matt. 22:1-14), the guests invited by the king decide not to show. To add insult to injury, they treat his slaves harshly, killing some. After dealing with these murderers, the king sends his servants to the far reaches of his kingdom, welcoming the outcasts and indigent to his son’s wedding celebration. But as the festivities begin, the king spots a man improperly dressed and has him bound and taken away.
Not fair, you say. After all, the king invited him and he came. How can this vagrant be blamed for his dirty clothes? The answer is that in a Jewish ceremony of this type, the king provides wedding garments for every guest. Therefore, the man has no excuse. He dishonors the king and his son by rejecting the wedding garment and preferring his own filthy rags.
In the same way, no one will enter the kingdom based on personal righteousness. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would convict unbelievers of their unrighteousness and point them to the righteousness of Christ (John 16:8-11). Isaiah reminds us that the best of our works are but filthy rags in God’s eyes (Isa. 64:6). Only the righteousness of Christ – the garment of salvation – is acceptable attire for those before the throne of God and the Lamb (Rev. 7:9). As Paul declared, “He saved us – not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
Those who hope to enter the kingdom of heaven by virtue of their natural birth, church membership or personal righteousness will find themselves outside, facing a closed door. Why? Because they have rejected Christ, their only hope of forgiveness and eternal life. We may grieve over those who are cast out, but from God’s perspective they are “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
Rob Phillips is director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources. CrossBooks Publishing (www.crossbooks.com) has just released his book, The Kingdom According to Jesus: A Study of Jesus’ Parables on the Kingdom of Heaven, and free downloadable studies are available at www.oncedelivered.net.
This article first appeared Sept. 3, 2009, in Baptist Press.
By Rob Phillips
The term “kingdom” has in many respects become archaic in 21st century lingo. Unless you’re talking taxonomy – the No. 1 context according to Google – or a theme park in Florida, the word “kingdom” conjures up images of ancient empires, epic quests and faded glory.
Even in the church, the most important – and perhaps least understood – kingdom of all is rooted in the ancient texts of Scripture: the kingdom of heaven, also called the kingdom of God, or, simply, the kingdom. Some find this an obsolete expression better suited to first-century believers than modern-day Christians navigating the Twitterverse.
But the kingdom of heaven is of exceptional relevance today, especially when we understand its meaning and explore its value.
Defined simply, the kingdom of heaven is God’s reign, or His authority to rule. The primary meaning of the Hebrew word malkuth and the Greek word basileia is the rank, authority and sovereignty exercised by a king, according to George Eldon Ladd in The Gospel of the Kingdom. Certainly, a kingdom needs territory and people, but God’s kingdom first and foremost is His authority to rule them all.
Yes, the kingdom still matters today. Here’s why:
It matters to Jesus. The kingdom of heaven is the primary focus of Jesus’ teaching. Matthew records no fewer than 13 of Jesus’ parables of the kingdom of heaven, in which He uses mustard seeds and bridesmaids to reveal the “mystery” of the kingdom (Matt. 13:11). The Jews are looking for a political and military Messiah based on their understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, but they miss the prophecies that point to the Suffering Servant. Jesus’ parables make it clear that the kingdom must first come without fanfare in the Lamb of God who, through His death, burial and resurrection, will take away the sin of the world. The kingdom will come in power and great glory one day when Jesus returns as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (see Rev. 19:11-16). The King of kings is still very much interested in His kingdom.
It matters to the church. The kingdom of heaven and the church are not the same, since Christ’s authority extends beyond New Testament believers. Yet the kingdom involves the church as God’s primary means of communicating and expanding His kingdom in this age. The apostle Paul preached the gospel of the kingdom, as the church is to do today so that many will enter in by faith. The kingdom is God’s conquest, through Jesus Christ, of His enemies: sin, Satan and death. This is the heart of the Gospel message the church is commissioned to proclaim.
It matters to Satan. In Matthew 12, Jesus confronts the religious leaders who accuse Him of casting out demons by Satan’s power. His response is revealing. “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you. How can someone enter a strong man’s house and steal his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house” (Matt. 12:28-29). Satan is the prince of his own rogue kingdom, a kingdom of darkness and bondage. In the incarnation, Jesus invades Satan’s kingdom, binding the “strong man” and plundering his goods by transporting lost sinners from Satan’s kingdom into God’s kingdom. Satan is defeated. His time is short. And when the kingdom comes in fullness with the glorious appearing of Jesus, Satan will be cast into hell, which was created for him (Matt. 25:41).
It matters to creation. The apostle Paul writes that “the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now” (Rom. 8:22). Since Adam’s fall, the creation has been under a curse. But the curse will be lifted (Rev. 22:3) when the kingdom comes in fullness, when this sinful and fallen world is purged of sin (2 Peter 3:10-13). The new heavens and earth will no longer bear the weight of sin. And the pinnacle of God’s creation – human beings – will be perfected with glorified bodies that are fit for eternal worship and service unto God.
It matters to you. In the end, you will spend eternity in one of two places: the kingdom, or outer darkness. Where you spend eternity is determined, not by some future balancing of the scales, but in how you answer the question today that Jesus asked in Matt. 16:15: “Who do you say that I am?” In the end, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil. 2:10), but not everyone will enter the kingdom. Make no mistake: Many will be denied entrance. But they will go into outer darkness of their own choosing because, as the characters in Jesus’ parable of the 10 minas say, “We don’t want this man to rule over us” (Luke 19:14).
While man-made kingdoms come and go, the kingdom of heaven stands forever. It has Christ as King, believers as subjects, redemption as its mission, and the universe as its realm.
What is the kingdom of heaven? Is the kingdom here already, or are we to wait for it? Why did Jesus use parables to describe it? Who’s in the kingdom and who’s not? Why are some cast out of the kingdom? And what can we learn from Jesus’ stories of mustard seeds, pearls and bridesmaids? The Kingdom According to Jesus by Rob Phillips explores these questions in a simple and compelling way that encourages readers to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33).