The kingdom of heaven

Jesus’ description of the kingdom of heaven suggests that it is not so much a place as it is a condition that is developed over a period of time. In some ways, you might say that the kingdom of heaven is an internal state that is connected to external factors such as housing, nutrition, and financial security. Jesus used a parable to explain how the kingdom of heaven works. He said:

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:3-9)

The example Jesus used to explain the kingdom of heaven had to do with a common experience that most people who lived in the first century could relate to, but they still didn’t understand what he was saying. “Jesus spoke in parables to explain spiritual truths, but those who had already rejected Jesus did not have divinely enlightened minds with which to perceive these truths, and no amount of explanation would make them understand (1 Corinthians 2:14)” (note on Matthew 13:10-17).

When Jesus’ disciples asked him why he spoke to the people in parables, he told them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11). The Greek word that is translated secrets, musterion (moos-tay’-ree-on) in the New Testement denotes, “not the mysterious (as with the English word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illuminated by His Spirit” (G3466).

Jesus said, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand…But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:13, 16-17). One of the people in the Old Testament of the Bible that was able to see the kingdom of heaven, but still did not understand how it worked was Jacob, the son of Isaac that inherited Abraham’s blessing. When Jacob left his father’s home in Beersheba and traveled toward Haran where his uncle Laban lived, he spent the night in place that he later described as “the house of God” (Genesis 28:17).

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:11-15).

The King James version of this passage indicates that Jacob “lighted upon a certain place” (Genesis 28:11). The Hebrew words paga (paw-gah’) and maqowm (maw-kome’) suggest that Jacob was being placed (H6293/H4725) in the house of God because it was God’s will for him to be there rather than any intentional effort on his part to arrive at that location. Like the sower in Jesus’ parable, God sowed Jacob like a seed and he landed on a rocky spot where he had to use a stone as a pillow to fall sleep.

Jesus explained the parable of the sower to his disciples in simple terms so that they could grasp the spiritual truth he wanted to convey. He said:

“Hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what he has sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this in the one who hears, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:18-22).

When Jacob realized the LORD was in the place where he was staying, he exclaimed, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). Jacob was excited about his discovery, but he was unwilling to make a commitment to the LORD. Like the seed that landed on rocky ground, God’s promise didn’t take root in Jacob’s heart because Jacob didn’t believe in God. After Laban tricked him into marrying his daughter Leah and forced Jacob to stay in Haran another seven years in order for Rachel to be his wife, Jacob’s expectation of returning to his father’s house seemed to disappear altogether.

After living with his uncle Laban for 20 years, Jacob received a second message from the LORD. “Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you'” (Genesis 31:3). Jacob left Paddan-aram and “set his face toward the country of Gilead” (Genesis 31:21) where his father Isaac was, but Jacob was detoured from his destination. On his way from Paddan-aram, Jacob camped before the city of Shechem and “he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he pitched his tent” (Genesis 33:19). It’s unknown how much time Jacob spent in Shechem, but while he was there, his daughter Dinah was raped and his sons destroyed the city out of revenge. This seems to reflect the situation Jesus described as seed that was sown among thorns because Jacob started out obeying the LORD’s instruction by leaving his uncle’s home and heading toward Gilead, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choked the word, meaning Jacob was happy living in Shechem until the tragedy of rape closed off his spiritual airway and he allowed the city to be ransacked by his angry sons.

God spoke to Jacob a third time as he dealt with the aftermath of his daughter’s rape. “God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau'” (Genesis 35:1). The Hebrew word that is translated arise, quwm (koom) is used “to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). The Hebrew word maqowm (maw-kome) which is translated “a certain place” in Genesis 28:11 is derived from quwm and speaks of not only of a locality, but also figuratively “of a condition (of body or mind)” (H4725). God’s command to go up to Bethel was not related to its geographical location because Bethel was located about 25 miles south of Shechem. What God was likely doing when he instructed Jacob to “Arise, go up to Bethel” (Genesis 31:1) was calling Jacob, inviting him to become a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus said in his parable of the weeds:

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn'” (Matthew 13:24-30).

The Greek word that is translated weeds, zizanion (dziz-an’-ee-on) “is a kind of darnel growing in the grain fields, as tall as wheat and barley, and resembling wheat in appearance, except the seeds are black. It was credited among the Jews with being degenerate wheat. The seeds are poisonous to man and herbivorous animals, producing sleepiness, nausea, convulsions and even death (they are harmless to poultry). The plants can be separated out, but the custom, as in the parable, is to leave the cleaning out till near the time of harvest” (G2215).

Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the weeds indicated there is only one kingdom that exists in the world and Satan’s followers are usually found intermingled in it with believers. Jesus said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil” (Matthew 13:38-39). One of the reasons why it is sometimes difficult to tell if a person is saved or not is because Satan’s sons cleverly disguise themselves as Christians. They want everyone to think they are good people and don’t intend to do anyone any harm. In the parable of the weeds, the man who sowed the good seed told his servants not to gather the weeds because “in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them” (Matthew 13:29). This could mean that the lives of believers and unbelievers are so closely intertwined that separating them presents a risk of believers becoming calloused toward God.

Jacob’s love for his wife Rachel was a driving force in his decision to stay with his uncle Laban. At first, Jacob only committed himself to serving Laban for seven years in order to marry Rachel, but after he was tricked into marrying Leah instead, Jacob agreed to serve Laban seven more years. At the end of that time, Jacob was persuaded to stay another six years in exchange for flocks of animals to feed his family. When Jacob finally decided it was time for him to leave Paddan-aram, Rachel stole her father’s household gods, hid them in her camel’s saddle, and lied to Laban about it while he searched for them in her tent. The household gods were idols that most likely symbolized the family’s devotion to pagan deities such as Astoreth and Ishtar. After God commanded Jacob to “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there” (Genesis 35:1), it says in Genesis 35:2-3, “So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”

Jacob’s awareness that his family was practicing idolatry was a compromise that had most likely affected his spiritual leadership. His commitment to the LORD at Bethel may have been Jacob’s way of changing the course of his family’s history and a distinct point in time when God began to work out Jacob’s destiny through the lives of his children. Genesis 35:16-19 states, “Then they journeyed from Bethel. When they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor. And when her labor was the hardest, the midwife said to her, ‘Do not fear, for you have another son.’ And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is Bethlehem).”

Jesus told his disciples, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Matthew 13:31-32). What happened to Jacob when he went to live with his uncle Laban seems to illustrate this spiritual truth. Jacob’s uncle admitted that he had learned by divination that the LORD had blessed him because of Jacob. The Hebrew word that is translated divination, nachash (naw-khash’) means a magic spell, but can also refer to learning by experience or diligently observing something. Like the branches of the tree in Jesus’ parable that spread wide and tall and were inviting to the birds that were looking for places to build their nests, God’s blessing on Jacob’s life was a benefit to everyone around him and some people took advantage of that. Jesus went on to say, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour till it was all leavened” (Matthew 13:33). This seems to suggest that faith can be contagious and that it is easier for the people around a believer to have faith in God once they see it at work in the believer’s life.

It’s not known exactly how old Jacob was when he returned to his father’s home, but it can be estimated that he was about 100-105 years of age. Jacob was approximately 90 years old when his son Joseph was born. Jacob lived in Paddam-aram another six years after that (Genesis 30:25 31:41), then he went to Shechem and lived there until Joseph was probably around 12 or 13 years old. Genesis 35:27-29 encapsulates the entire period of time from when Jacob returned to Hebron to when Isaac died at the age of 180, which would have made Jacob 120 years old (Genesis 25:26). These verses state, “And Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kiriath-arba (that is Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned. Now the days of Isaac were 180 years. And Isaac breathed his last, and he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.”

After Jacob returned to Hebron, it appears that he and Esau lived peacefully with each other the rest of their lives. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians talked about the reconciliation of the two people groups that are represented by the twin brothers Jacob and Esau. He said, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and had broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:13-16).

Paul described the peace of God as something that “surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). This may have been what Jesus was talking about when he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). Jesus went on to say, “Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46). The only way a person can have the peace of God is by having a relationship with Jesus Christ. In his final discourse, after eating the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus concluded by stating, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write to me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

Spiritual work

Jesus’ parable of the talents illustrated the concept of spiritual work. He began his lesson by stating, “For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey” (Matthew 25:14-15). In order to convey the point he was trying to make, Jesus used an example that dealt with something his followers were familiar with. The idea that the master of a household would leave his home and go on a long journey was not that unusual in the time period in which Jesus lived. Today we think of business trips lasting no more than a week or two because we have airplanes and internet connections that speed up everything we do. It is likely that the image Jesus was creating was a trip from Israel to Spain or perhaps China, which could have taken months or even years depending on the mode of travel.

Jesus indicated talents were distributed to the man’s servants according to their “several ability” (Matthew 25:15). The Greek words idios (id´-ee-os) and dunamis (doo´-nam-is) have to do with miraculous power that is divided up among individuals with each one getting his particular portion or unique part (G2398/G1411). Jesus was probably referring to the gifts of the Spirit that are identified in 1 Corinthians 12. The Apostle Paul associated spiritual gifts with the Holy Spirit and said, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). The phrase “profit withal” comes from the Greek word sumphero (soom-fer´-o) which means “to bear together” (G4851). Sumphero is derived from the Greek words sun (soon) and phero (fer´-o). “Phero, as a verb, means ‘to bear, carry’ and is rendered ‘being moved’ in 2 Peter 1:21, signifying that they were ‘borne along,’ or impelled, by the Holy Spirit’s power, not acting according to their own will, or simply expressing their own thoughts, but expressing the mind of God in words provided and ministered by Him. It is used also of ‘bearing or bringing forth fruit'” (G5342). Jesus used the Greek verb phero when he talked about bearing spiritual fruit in his parable of the sower (Mark 4:3-8).

Jesus indicated in his parable of the talents that there would come a day when the man’s servants would be held accountable for their use of his resources while he was gone. He said, “After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them” (Matthew 25:19). The two Greek words that are translated reckoneth, sunairo (soon-ah´ee-ro) and logos (log´-os) are associated with the collective use of God’s word. It could be that reckoning has something to do with a replay of what Christians have said (or not said as the case may be) about Christ during their lifetimes. Jesus made it clear in his explanation of the parable of the sower that the seed that was being sown in the field was the word of God going out into the world (Luke 8:11; Matthew:13:38). Therefore, the spiritual work of spreading the gospel is what Jesus expected each of his followers to be doing while they were waiting for his return.

The kingdom of heaven

One of the topics that Jesus talked about frequently was the kingdom of heaven. Rather than a place far away, somewhere out in the cosmos, Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven exists here on planet earth. In order to create a mental image of the place he was talking about, Jesus told a series of parables that are recorded in Matthew 13:24-52. The first of these parables is referred to as the parable of the tares. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way” (Matthew 13:24-25). According to the footnote on Matthew 13:25, the tares Jesus spoke of in his parable were “probably darnel, which looks very much like wheat while it is young, but can later be distinguished. This parable does not refer to unbelievers in the church. The field is the world (v. 38). Thus the people of the kingdom live side by side with the people of the evil one.”

Jesus’ illustration of the kingdoms of God and Satan existing side by side in the world was most likely a reference to the Jews dispersion throughout the world after Jesus was resurrected. For almost 1900 years, the Jews didn’t have a homeland, but were integrated among other nations and lived without any political structure to sustain them. It wasn’t until after World War II, when their race was almost exterminated, that the Jews were granted access to the land that was once their inheritance from God. In his second parable, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof” (Matthew 13:31-32). Since its reestablishment in 1948, Israel has continued to gain strength as a nation and has attracted worldwide attention because of what appears to be its supernatural preservation in spite of continual military attacks against it.

In his explanation of the parable of the tares, Jesus indicated there would come a time when Satan’s followers would be removed from the world. He told his disciples, “the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burnt in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world” (Matthew 13:38-40). After this explanation, Jesus used three illustrations to convey the extreme value of membership in the kingdom of heaven. He likened his kingdom to treasure hid in a field, one pearl of great price, and a net that was able to gather into it every kind of fish in the sea without breaking (Matthew 13:44-48). In his final remark to his disciples, Jesus emphasized the value both the Old and New Testaments of God’s word (Matthew 13:52). Whereas, some might have thought the history of God’s people was irrelevant, Jesus made it clear that it was important for them to know the whole story about God’s establishment of his kingdom on earth.

Understanding

Jesus’ teaching included some hard sayings that were often misunderstood by those that gathered to hear him speak. After the scribes and Pharisees began to twist his words and take them out of context, Jesus started using stories that were referred to as parables to convey truths about God’s kingdom. Jesus’ parables used comparisons or illustrations from nature and human life to convey messages that might be misconstrued if he were to talk about them openly among unbelievers. On one occasion, when there were so many people gathered by the sea side to listen to him teach that he had to get into a ship to keep from being crushed by the crowd (Matthew 13:1-2), Jesus used the parable of the sower to describe the effects of hearing the word of God. This parable included a key lesson that Jesus later interpreted for his disciples so that they wouldn’t misunderstand the point he was making. Therefore, its meaning was very important and Jesus wanted to make sure they didn’t misinterpret it.

When Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” (Matthew 13:10), it says in Matthew 13:11, “He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” The Greek word translated mysteries, musterion (moos-tay’-ree-on) means a secret or mystery (through the idea of silence imposed by initiation into religious rites)” (3466). What Jesus was implying was that membership in God’s kingdom was required for certain information to be revealed. In other words, unbelievers weren’t on the need to know list, therefore, Jesus didn’t tell them everything about the kingdom of heaven. When he explained the parable to his disciples, the key issue Jesus focused on was the unbeliever’s inability to understand or assimilate the word of God. Jesus said, “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Matthew 13:13).

Understanding of the word of God occurs at a deeper level than information that is processed through our brains. Jesus likened the word of God to seeds because seeds need to be underneath the soil in order for them to germinate. Like farming, Jesus suggested that assimilation of the word of God was a process that took place over time and an important factor that was revealed in his parable was the quality of the soil, or in reality, the condition of a person’s heart. He said, “But he that received the seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. The Greek word Jesus used for understanding, suniemi (soon-ee’-ay-mee) is derived from the word sun (soon) which denotes union; “with or together, i.e. by association, companionship, process, resemblance” (4862). The process of taking in and fully understanding the information and ideas that Jesus taught about the kingdom of God occurred while the disciples were living with him over the course of three years.

A parable

Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-2) was used to describe the role Judah, and more specifically Jerusalem, had in God’s plan of salvation. Isaiah stated plainly in his parable that a partnership existed between God and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. God had done his part to ensure the Messiah would be born, but his kingdom had become unfit for habitation. Isaiah’s parable provided an important clue as to why the Messiah would not establish his kingdom until the last days, God’s people were corrupted by idolatry.

God had gone to great lengths to nurture and protect his people. In spite of his efforts, they refused to do things his way. Isaiah identified several problems the LORD intended to deal with in his judgment of the people of Judah, most importantly, their abuse of the land he had given them. Speaking for the LORD, Isaiah stated, “And now go to, I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up, and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: and I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned or digged, but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it” (Isaiah 5:5-6).

Isaiah’s use of the term “wild grapes” (Isaiah 5:2,4) to describe the fruit of the LORD’s vineyard indicated the people of Judah had reached a point of no return in their abandonment of God’s law. The Hebrew word translated wild grapes, be’ushiym means poison-berries (891). Poison-berries are usually colorful and juicy looking, but toxic if ingested. Some poison-berries are lethal and it could be that Isaiah named a specific poison-berry in order to make his point that the vineyard had to be abandoned and was useless to its owner.

Part of the reason for God’s judgment against Judah was a need to expose the people’s sin and to condemn their bad behavior. As a demonstration of their unfaithfulness to God, the people would be removed from the land and humbled before the surrounding nations. It says in Isaiah 5:13, “Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.”

The word translated captivity, galah means to denude or make oneself naked, especially in a disgraceful sense (1540). Captivity is also referred to as going into exile, captives being usually stripped in order to disgrace and humiliate them in public. Another meaning of the word galah is to reveal and it is sometimes applied to “the revealing of secrets and of one’s innermost feelings.” I believe God sent his people into captivity so that they could see themselves for what they really were, sinners in need of a Savior.