The Mysteries of the Kingdom

http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/matthew/mat13.pdf

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With this necessary background, we come to the important chapter of Matthew 13.
Perhaps the key verses in understanding the chapter are found in verses 10-11.
The disciples asked the Lord why He spoke to the multitudes in parables (never
before had the Lord taught in this way to the crowds). Jesus answered, “Because
it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them
it is not given” (v. 11).
The term “mystery,” as defined in the N.T., refers to something which has been
hidden, kept secret, and not made known to men in previous ages but has now
been made manifest and made known and revealed in the N.T. Scriptures (see for
example Eph. 3:4-5; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:26; Rom. 16:26). Here in Matthew 13 we
have our Lord’s own definition of what He meant by “mystery”: “I will utter things
which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world….many prophets
and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not
seen them…” (verses 35,17). Thus, in this chapter our Lord was teaching His
disciples something new–new truth which had never previously been revealed.
The truth concerning the kingdom of heaven was clearly revealed in the Old
Testament Scriptures, and the Jews understood what the Messianic kingdom would
be like. That was the kingdom they were expecting. But in Matthew 13 the Lord
was going to present some new truth concerning the kingdom, and He calls it “the
mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.”
Today we are living in a unique period of time—a unique age! We are actually
living between the two greatest events of history—the first and second advents of
Christ. Christ has come (that’s history); He’s coming again (that’s prophecy). This
age between the two comings of Christ is unique. The Old Testament prophets
could not really distinguish two comings of Christ. When the Jews read the
Scriptures, they could only see one coming. As we read our Bibles today (in this
present age) we have the advantage of being better able to see two distinct
comings of Christ–one is now history and the other is still prophecy. To show you
the difficulty the O.T. prophets must have had in distinguishing the two comings
of Christ, read the following passages to see how the two comings of Christ are
blended together [Micah 5:2; Isa. 9:6-7; Isa. 61:1-2 (compare Luke 4:18-19);
Zech. 9:9-10; Isa. 40:3-5 (compare Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3); Malachi 3:1-2; 4:5
(compare Mk. 1:2; Matt. 17:3,10-13); Luke 1:31-33]. If you were a Jew living in
the year 100 B.C., would you have understood these passages as referring to two
separate comings of the Messiah?
Today, from our unique perspective, we know that there is a period of time (about
two millennia) separating these two comings of Christ. During this time period the
King is absent from the earth, at the right hand of His Father in heaven waiting
until His enemies are made His footstool (Ps. 110:1). The king is in “exile” or
according to Luke 19:12, “he went into a far country”. What can we expect during
this present age between the two advents of Christ? We find the answer to this
question in Matthew 13.
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If you look at two mountain peaks from a distance, it may appear that there is only
one mountain. From your vantage point, it may be difficult to distinguish that there
are really two mountains with a valley in between. The Old Testament believer had
difficulty distinguishing two separate comings of the Messiah. To him the coming
of the Messiah looked like one mountain peak in the distance. He did not realize
that there were actually two mountain peaks with a valley of about 2000 years in
between.
The following illustration may help to illustrate this:
The following diagram may also be of help:
The present age may be described as the time of seed sowing. What should we
expect during this present age, between the two comings of Christ? What will the
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conditions be like? What will happen during this time? Will conditions get better
and better? Will all men eventually believe God’s Word and be saved? Will there
be a worldwide revival that will sweep over all the nations of the world? Will the
King return and find a converted world? Matthew chapter 13 answers these
questions.
As we shall see, Matthew 13 provides a very accurate description of “professing
Christianity” (the whole sphere of Christian profession) during this present age.
Today we would call this CHRISTENDOM, which for the most part has turned into
an ugly religious system. It is a far cry from God’s plan for His Church or God’s
plan for His kingdom.
With this introduction, we are now ready to consider the parables themselves. A
parable literally denotes a placing beside (the Greek word: paraballÇ, to throw or
lay beside, to compare). It signifies a placing of one thing beside another with a
view to comparison. For example, in the first parable, the seed is comparable to
the Word of God. Hence, a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.
The parables in Matthew 13 are not difficult to understand. In fact, Jesus even
interprets two of them for us! The only requirment is that the student must have
ears to hear (Matt. 13:9).
Please note that the first four parables were told before the multitudes and the last
three were taught privately to only the disciples (verses 1-3, 34, 36).
The First Parable: The Parable of the Sower
This could also be called “The Parable of the Four Soils.”
The period between the two advents of Christ will be a period of seed sowing. The
seed is the Word of God (Luke 8:11; compare Matt. 13:19). There will be a
worldwide sowing of the Word of God in light of Matthew 13:38 (“the field is the
world”). The soils represent four classes of hearers or listeners, thus representing
the condition of the human heart (compare Matthew 13:19-”heart” and see Mark
4:15 and Luke 8:12,15).
What should we expect from this worldwide sowing of the Word of God? How
optimistic should we be? Should we expect a worldwide revival resulting in the
conversion of all people?
This parable makes it clear that there will not be a worldwide acceptance of the
Word. We must not anticipate a universal reception of the truth. The great
majority of those who hear will reject the truth. At best, only a minority of those
who hear will respond with a good receptive heart (compare Matthew 7:14–“few”).
The fault lies not with the seed, nor with the Sower, but with the ground (the
human heart). Man is to blame (not God and not the Word of God).
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According to Matthew 13:37 (which actually pertains to the second parable), it is
probably safe to say that the Sower is Christ, the Son of man. Of course, Christ
does not do the actual sowing, but He gives this responsibility to men (2 Cor.
5:19-20). He does the sowing, but He uses our hands and our mouths and our
feet, etc. We are His representatives, His witnesses, His mouthpieces, etc. He
works through us. We are His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20).
Hard Packed Soil
The “way side” (verse4) actually refers to a road or a dirt path that has been
packed down by travellers. It refers to the hard beaten path. Obviously the seed
would lie upon the surface of this hard ground and would not even penetrate the
hard soil and thus would never germinate. Such seed would easily become bird
feed!
Obviously this type of soil would represent the person whose heart is hardened and
completely unresponsive! This person is completely unreceptive and unconcerned
and blinded by the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4).
Satan takes full advantage of the situation, sending his birds (probably
representing the demonic forces) to catch away the seed, lest they “should believe
the Word and be saved” (Luke 8:12). Luke 8:12 is an important verse because it
shows that Satan knows the true plan of salvation: “believe (the Word) and be
saved” (notice there is no mention of “baptism” or the many other things that
people try to add to the grace of God). This is a good verse to show even to
children to point out the true plan of salvation. The devil knows that if people
believe the gospel message they will be saved, and he does all he can to prevent
this. Birds are sometimes used as symbols of evil (Jer. 5:26-27 and Rev. 18:2).
During this present age (between the two comings of Christ) Satan is very active.
Satan is alive and well on Planet Earth! He has a very active ministry, assisted by
his demonic hosts.
Stoney Soil
This is not talking about soil with many stones in it or ground covered with many
rocks, but it is actually speaking of an area with only a thin layer of soil covering
a solid ledge of limestone or bedrock which lies just below the surface (a rock
ledge covered with a thin layer of soil).
Thus we have a description of someone who does receive the Word, but it is only
a surface or shallow type of faith. It’s a shoot without a root, and soon dies! At first
the person responds enthusiastically (and with joy), but their response is shallow
with no depth and no roots. “In this shallow soil the seed is received, but the
growth is but superficial. At first they promise well, but later prove very
disappointing. What we have here is lack of depth. The emotions have been
moved, but the conscience has not been searched; there is a natural ‘joy’ but no
deep conviction or true repentance” (A. W. Pink, The Prophetic Parables of
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Matthew 13).
Before long such superficial “believers” fall away and apostatize (depart from the
faith). They are professing but then defecting. They start but they don’t finish.
When the storms of life come they are blown away because they have no roots.
They believe for a time, but it is only a superficial, temporary belief, and before too
long they do not believe at all (“a wicked heart of unbelief in departing from the
living God”–Heb. 3:12).
For a detailed study of the true believer continuing in the faith and not departing
from the truth of the gospel, see the last section of our New Believer Studies.
Thorny Soil
Here we have seed that is choked by weeds. These weeds deprive the good seed
and the young plant of its needed light and moisture.
This then is the divided heart, divided between God and the world, between God
and mammon (riches). The person is preoccupied with the things of this world (the
less important things). His life is dominated by worldly things rather than by God
and His Word. Matthew 13 mentions the care (anxiety) of this age and the
deceitfulness of riches (verse 22). Mark and Luke give some other thorns: “the
lust of other things” (Mark 4:19) and “the pleasures of this life” (Luke 8:14).
These thorns crowd out God. There is no room for Him.
The students need to see the vanity of things of this world in light of eternity. See
the chapter on “Vanity Fair” in The Pilgrim’s Progress.
The believer also needs to be alert to the dangers of worldliness: “Anything that
dims my vision of Christ, or takes away my taste for Bible study, or cramps my
prayer life, or makes Christian work difficult is wrong for me and as a Christian I
must turn from it” (David Nettleton). If you love the world, how can you love God
(1 John 2:15-17)? God does not want any competition. He wants all of your
devotion. He’s a very jealous God!
Good Soil
Here is the soil that has been plowed, harrowed and made ready for planting
(symbolic of the work of the Holy Spirit in breaking up the hard hearts of men and
preparing the soil). It speaks of a heart broken up by the Spirit of God and
watered by prayer. Notice what we are told about fruit. In a true believer, we
ought to look for fruit. Some believers are more fruitful than others (there is a big
difference between 30 bushels of apples and 100 bushels), but there should be
some fruit. Matthew 13:23 does not say, “…who also beareth fruit, and bringeth
forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty and some zero.” If
someone claims to be an apple tree, I would have every right to say, “Then let me
see your apples!” If the Spirit of God truly lives in us, then where is the fruit of
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the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23)? Should not His working be evident?
Application
This first parable has some good applications for the Christian believer who is
responsible under Christ to sow the seed. We must sow the seed and leave the
results up to God. God must bring forth the increase (1 Cor. 3:6). The farmer can
only sow the seed and water the soil, but God must do the real work. We should
not get disappointed if many do not respond–rather, we should expect this. At the
same time, we should expect that some seed (even if it be a very small proportion)
will fall upon good ground and will bring forth fruit. What are different ways in
which we can sow the seed? God commands us to sow the seed (Mark 16:15;
compare 2 Cor. 5:18-20). We need to learn to faithfully sow the seed and leave
the results to God. Only God can bring forth life and give the increase!