by Bob Wheeler

Jean-Francois Millet: The Gleaners

Jean-Francois Millet: The Gleaners

    When Jesus came He didn’t set up His kingdom right away – at least not in an earthly, visible form. This, then, raises some important questions: what exactly is the kingdom, and how will it come? To answer these questions Jesus told a series of parables.

    One of them was the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, found in Matthew 13:24-30, and then explained in verses 36-43. A man sows good seed in his field, but at night his enemy comes and sows tares among the wheat. (The “tares” are generally thought to be darnel, a weed that looks like wheat during the early stages of its growth.) The man’s servants ask him what to do, and he replies that they should let the tares and the wheat grow together until the harvest. Then the harvesters will gather the tares and burn them, and the wheat will be gathered into the barn.

    When asked by His disciples for an explanation, Jesus replied that “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man” (v. 37: NKJV). “Son of Man” is a Messianic title, taken from Daniel 7:13,14, which reads, in part, “And behold, One like the Son of Man, / Coming with the clouds of heaven! / . . . Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom . . .” In Matthew Jesus is evidently applying the term to Himself.

    The field, Jesus goes on to explain, is the world. The good seed represents “the sons of the kingdom” and the tares are “the sons of the wicked one” (v. 38). The harvest is “the end of the age” (v. 39). At that point “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father . . . ” (vv. 41-43).

    Several conclusions may be drawn. First of all, the kingdom is present in one sense, but future in another. At this present time the “sons of the wicked one” and the “sons of the kingdom” exist side-by-side in the world. It is not until “the end of the age” (synteleia aionos) that the two are separated and “the righteous shine forth in the kingdom of their Father.” This latter phrase echoes the language of Daniel 12:3: “Those who are wise shall shine / Like the brightness of the firmament, / And those who turn many to righteousness / Like the stars forever and ever.” In other words, the earthly, visible manifestation of the kingdom will not appear until after the Second Coming of Christ: it is essentially future. And yet there is some sense in which the kingdom is already present among those who have already committed their lives to Christ. When the Son of Man sends out His angels, “they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend” (v. 41), suggesting that the kingdom is already present in a diluted form. This puts Christians in the peculiar position of living one reality while the surrounding world is practicing something entirely different.

    In its present form, however, the kingdom is not static by dynamic. In a couple of other parables Jesus compares the kingdom to a mustard seed which as a seed is very small but can grow to be ten or fifteen feet high (vv. 31,32). He also compares it to leaven which lies buried in the dough practically invisible to the naked eye, yet nevertheless exerts its influence throughout the dough, making it rise.

    The implication here is that the kingdom does not come all at once. It begins small and grows in size over time. Now is the time when “the word of the kingdom” (v. 19) is proclaimed and individual hearers respond. Some reject the gospel while others embrace it. Thus the kingdom currently exists as a spiritual reality among believers. When Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom would come He responded, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed the kingdom of God is within you” (Lu. 17:20,21). This, it is suffices to say, was not what they had been expecting, and is no doubt one of the reasons why they rejected Jesus.

    Thus we are currently in the position of “already . . . not yet.” We can experience the spiritual blessings of the kingdom right now. When we repent and confess our sins, and place our trust in Christ as our Savior, the Holy Spirit comes and dwells within our hearts and produces spiritual life within us. But the full earthly manifestation of the kingdom must await the Second Coming of Christ. Until then we are called to remain faithful to Christ while living in the midst of a skeptical and sometimes even hostile world.