Kingdom Mysteries As noted previously, Israel’s rejection of the kingdom offer (Matt. 12:24) led to the kingdom’s postponement. Consequently, Christ began to explain the spiritual conditions that would now prevail during the kingdom’s absence. This interim program includes His revelation of the kingdom mysteries (Matt. 13) and the church (Matt. 16:18). Kingdom Mysteries of Matthew 13 The first aspect of this interim phase is the kingdom mysteries (Matt. 13:1–52). These represent the course of events to be experienced by the kingdom’s heirs or the “sons of the kingdom” (13:38) between Israel’s rejection and future acceptance of the kingdom offer. Thus, these mysteries cover the time period between Israel’s formal rejection of the kingdom and the Second Advent (13:40–42, 49–50). The kingdom mysteries represent new truths concerning the kingdom that were undisclosed in the Old Testament.
The best and most comprehensive works I’ve read that teaches the Kingdom parables of Matthew 13 is found in Dr Andy Wood’s book: “The Coming Kingdom”. I highly recommend this book to any bible student to fully understand The Kingdom of God and it in our current dispensation and how false teachers of Dominion Theology have misquoted and misapplied the Gospel of the Kingdom with this current dispensation of Grace.
I do however have some issues with Dr Woods’ book that stem primarily from his use of the NASB Bible translation and not the KJV. Please see my Blog and Email to Dr. Woods.
To go hand in hand with understanding the Kingdom Parables we have to understand Dispensations of the Bible to rightly divide the word of truth. Here in this link is Dr. Kim’s very solid teaching:
you’ll also note a disclaimer in the Blog about Dr. Kim’s dispensational truth that I also have areas I disagree with him.
I have taken the liberty to quote directly from Dr Andy Woods’ book, “The Coming Kingdom” that brilliantly describles and explains the Kingdom Parables of Matthew 13.
Because these truths had never before been made known, they represent a mystery age or a period of time not revealed in prior Scripture (Matt. 13:11; Eph. 3:9; Rom. 16:25–26). When the parables of Matthew 13 are understood together, we gain a comprehensive picture of the course of the present “mystery age.” Jesus made this point clear when He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. . . . But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matt. 13:11, 16–17).
When the eight parables of Matthew 13 are understood harmoniously, they reveal a complete picture of this “mystery age.” While Christ revealed the kingdom mysteries in parabolic form, He did not give the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7) or the missions discourse (10) in parabolic form. Why did Christ reveal the kingdom mysteries in parabolic form? In addition to fulfilling prophecy (13:34–35; Ps. 78:2), the parabolic form of teaching allowed Him to simultaneously conceal and reveal. Christ desired to conceal truth from the nation since they had already rejected the offer of the kingdom (Matt. 12).
Such concealment was actually merciful since the disclosure of more truth would have brought first-century Israel into even greater condemnation. Earlier, Christ had explained that greater revelation brings forth greater accountability (Matt. 11:20–24). The disclosure of more truth to the nation at this point would not have helped Israel but rather would have only increased her degree of discipline since she had already chosen to reject the kingdom offer.
On the other hand, Christ wanted to reveal truth to the believing remnant to prepare them for their leadership roles (Eph. 2:20) in the soon to be birthed church. Because they were to be His earthly representatives throughout the mystery age, they needed full information concerning the spiritual characteristics of this new age.
Let’s briefly examine the meaning of each of these parables found in Matthew 13. First, the parable of the sower teaches that the gospel will be preached throughout the course of the mystery age with varying responses based upon how the heart has been prepared. Responders to the truth will be given additional revelation (13:1–9, 18–23).
Second, the parable of the wheat and tares teaches that it will be difficult to distinguish between the saved and unsaved within professing Christendom throughout the mystery age. The separation between believer and unbeliever will not be made until the Second Advent (13:24–30, 36–43).
Third, the parable of the mustard seed teaches that Christendom will experience great numerical and geographical expansion from a small beginning. However, the final form of Christendom will represent an apostate form of truth in contradistinction to its biblically pure origins (13:31–32).
Fourth, because leaven in Scripture typically represents something pernicious or evil (Exod. 12; Lev. 2:11; 6:17; 10:12; Matt. 16:6, 12; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1; 1 Cor. 5:6–8; Gal. 5:9), the parable of the leaven working its way through the meal teaches that professing Christendom will experience increasing moral and doctrinal corruption as the age progresses (Matt. 13:33). This parable predicts increasing apostasy throughout the present age. Unfortunately, “kingdom now” interpreters miss this crucial point by interpreting the leaven as something good rather than evil. Walvoord explains: What does the leaven represent? Postmillenarians and amillenarians . . . usually assume dogmatically that leaven cannot represent evil in the parable, although it is universally used to represent evil in both the Old and New Testaments. . . . It is more evident than ever in the last third of the twentieth century that the gospel has not permeated the world and that evil tends to permeate the entire professing church, which is exactly what Matthew 13 teaches. In the Old Testament leaven is consistently used to represent evil. . . .
In the New Testament, leaven was used by Christ of the externalism of the Pharisees, of the unbelief of the Sadducees, and of the worldliness of the Herodians, and in general of evil doctrine (Mt 16:6–12; Mk 8:14–21). In Paul’s letters, likewise, leaven represents evil, as in 1 Corinthians 5:6–8 and Galatians 5:7–10. In the parable, the meal represents that which is good. . . . The professing church, however, is permeated by evil doctrine, externalism, unbelief, and worldliness, which tends to inflate the church and make it larger in appearance, even as the leaven inflates the dough but actually adds nothing of real worth.
The history of the church has all too accurately fulfilled this anticipation, and the professing church in the world, large and powerful though it may be, is permeated by the leaven of evil which will be judged in the oven of divine judgment at the end of the age. . . . To some extent, evil will extend even to . . . the body of true believers in the church as well as those that come to Christ after the rapture . . . even true believers fall far short of perfection and can embrace to some extent worldliness, externalism, and bad doctrine.1 Toussaint similarly notes:
The discussion revolves around the significance of the word “leaven” (zymē). Many contend that leaven is used here in a good sense and pictures the spread of the gospel throughout the earth. Others state that the word represents evil and is used to illustrate the growth of evil within the group which professes to inherit the kingdom.
This latter interpretation has the stronger support. It is consistent with the doctrine of Scripture concerning the evil character of the end of the church age and the tribulation (1 Timothy 4; 2 Timothy 3; Jude; 2 Peter 3; Revelation 6–19). One of the greatest supports for the interpretation that leaven speaks of evil is the use of the word in Scripture. Invariably leaven pictures sin (Exodus 12; Leviticus 2:11; 6:17; 10:12; Matthew 16:12; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1; 1 Corinthians 5:6–8; Galatians 5:9).
Finally the verb used here, “to hide” . . . is very unusual if leaven represents good. It is a much more fitting word if leaven is to have a sinister effect. This is similar to the idea in the parable of the wheat and the darnel. The way the woman hides the leaven in the meal parallels very closely the manner in which the enemy sowed darnel by night. This parable reveals the fact that evil will run its course and dominate the new age. But it also indicates that when the program of evil has been fulfilled, the kingdom will come.2 Thus, the present age represents a period when the gospel is preached resulting in the salvation of some. However, a counterfeit sowing will also take place. Despite God’s work throughout this age, Christendom will experience an increasing corruption.
This teaching concerning the increasing apostasy of the present mystery age can be found not only in the epistolary material (1 Tim. 4; 2 Tim. 3; 2 Peter 3; Jude) but also in the Matthew 13 parables. This teaching on the apostasy of the church does not mean that God cannot sovereignly send refreshing waves of revival and reformation, as He has done at various times. However, these refreshing seasons are not the norm but rather occur only intermittently throughout church history. A proper understanding of this apostasy represents a worldview that is diametrically opposed to “kingdom now” theology, which is the idea that the church will gradually Christianize the world thereby ushering in long-term cultural progress. The only way “kingdom-now” theology can be defended from Scripture is to ignore what the New Testament predicts concerning apostasy in the present mystery age. Fifth, because Scripture refers to Israel as God’s special treasure (Exod. 19:5), the parable of the earthen treasure teaches that Christ came to purchase Israel. However, Israel will remain in unbelief throughout the course of the mystery age and will not be converted until the age’s conclusion (Matt. 13:44). Sixth, the parable of the pearl of great price refers to Christ’s death that redeems members of the church throughout this age allowing the Lord to gain a treasure from among the Gentiles (13:45–46). Seventh, the parable of the dragnet teaches the coexistence of the righteous and the wicked throughout the age only to be separated by Christ at the age’s conclusion (13:47–50). Eighth, the parable of the householder teaches that these kingdom mysteries must be considered alongside Old Testament kingdom truth if one is to understand the totality of God’s kingdom agenda (13:51–52).
In sum, when these eight parables are taken together, the Lord reveals the spiritual conditions that will prevail in the world during an interim period when the kingdom is not present. Arthur Pink’s Exposition of Matthew 13 Many interpreters contend that the content of Matthew 13 conveys a present, spiritual form of the kingdom. They mistakenly believe that the Matthew 13 parables somehow represent a partial or a complete fulfillment of the long-awaited kingdom promises.
Yet, Arthur Pink’s exposition of Christ’s Matthew 13 parables well demonstrates that none of these parables, when rightly understood, convincingly establishes that the present age can be equated with a present, spiritual form of the kingdom.3 Given the importance of Matthew 13 in properly understanding the kingdom program and Pink’s insights on Matthew 13, some of his perspective will be provided in this chapter. Preliminary Remarks Before a correct interpretation of each of Christ’s parables found in Matthew 13 can be provided, the overall context of this important chapter in Matthew’s Gospel must first be understood. Having rejected the offer of the kingdom (Matt. 12) it then became apparent that the kingdom would not be established through national Israel at Christ’s First Advent. Thus, through the Matthew 13 parables, Christ began to articulate the spiritual characteristics of the intervening age while the kingdom remained in abeyance. Pink well explains the context: [In Matthew 12] we are told, “But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out demons, but by Beelzebub the prince of the demons”—there they committed the sin for which there was no forgiveness. Following our Lord’s sentence upon the Pharisees for their unpardonable blasphemy, we are next told, “Then certain of the scribes and the Pharisees answered, Master, we would see a sign from Thee” (v. 38). His response was that the only sign which should be given to that evil and unfaithful generation should be that of “the sign of the prophet Jonah”—i.e., that after three days in the place of death the Servant of God should come forth and go unto the Gentiles. Following this, the Lord solemnly pronounced the coming judgment of Heaven upon that wicked generation, so that their last state should be worse than the first (vv. 43–45). . . .
The parables of this chapter [Matthew 13] were spoken by Christ “the same day” as when the Pharisees had taken council together to destroy Him, as when they had committed the unpardonable sin, as when He had pronounced solemn judgment upon the Nation, and as when He had severed the fleshly ties which united Him to the Jews and had intimated that henceforth there should be a people united to Him by spiritual bonds. Thus the relation between Matthew 12 and Matthew 13 is that of cause to effect; in other words, Matthew 12 makes known the cause which led up to Christ’s acting as He did in the thirteenth chapter: that cause was Israel’s rejection of their King and His rejection of them. His action in Matthew 13:1 was indicative of a great dispensational crisis, it was an anticipation of what is found developed at length in the books of Acts—God, temporarily, turning away from the Jews and turning unto the Gentiles.4 Many interpret Christ’s parables as somehow representing the fulfillment of the Old Testament kingdom promises.
However, the mystery nature of these parables prevents such an interpretation. As Pink explains: The eleventh verse of Matthew 13 supplies yet another key, in the word “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” In Scripture the term “mystery” signifies a Divine secret made known by the Holy Spirit. This is confirmed by what is told us in verse 35, namely, that Christ was here uttering “things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.” Thus, in these parables, Christ was making known that which was outside the scope of O. T. prediction, something which God had not made known to Israel through the prophets. This needs to be carefully noted, for it refutes the popular interpretation of these parables. There are many who regard the parables of Matthew 13 as containing predictions of the ushering in of the Millennium: those of the Mustard-tree and the Leaven are regarded as being parallel with the promise that “the knowledge of the glory of the LORD shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” But that statement is found in Isaiah 11:9: that was no “secret” in O. T. times! Therefore, none of the parables in Matthew 13 can be treating of the same subject as Isaiah 11:9, or what is stated in verse 35 would not be true. No; Matthew 13 deals with something nowhere revealed in the O.T.; it is an entirely new revelation.5 With the context of Matthew 13 understood, it is now appropriate to examine each of Christ’s parables found in this chapter in order to demonstrate that their depiction of the course of the present age cannot be confused with the kingdom.
Prable of the Sower In the famous Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1–9, 18–23), Christ explained that the gospel will be faithfully preached throughout the current age with varying results depending upon the receptivity of the human heart. Yet, the very action of the sower going out to sow, or a preacher going forth to disseminate the gospel, well indicates that the present age is something markedly different from what the Old Testament predicts concerning the kingdom. Pink notes: The words “went forth to sow,” or as Mark’s Gospel puts it “went out” were indicative of the great dispensational change which was soon to be introduced. There was no longer to be a planting of vines or fig-trees in Israel, but a going out of the mercy of God unto the Gentiles; therefore what we have here is the broadcast sowing of the Seed in the field at large, for as verse 38 tells us “the field is the world.”6 In the prior dispensation the world came to Israel to learn of God. After all, it was the Queen of Sheba who had traveled over 1,500 miles from her native homeland to Jerusalem in order sit at Solomon’s feet and learn of his wisdom (2 Chron. 9:1–12).
Similarly, during the kingdom age, the nations will flock to Jerusalem in order to bask in spiritual truth (Isa. 2:2–3; Zech. 14:16–18). However, here something quite different is taking place as the gospel herald is going forth among the Gentiles rather than the Gentiles coming to the land of Israel. It is also worth pointing out that what is disseminated in the present age is the mere “word of the kingdom” (Matt. 13:19) or the message of the kingdom rather than the kingdom itself. Pink notes, “In verse 19 it is called ‘the word of the kingdom,’ while in verse 38 we read ‘the good seed are the children of the kingdom.’ Like produces like: the word of the kingdom produces sons of the kingdom: the fruit is according to the Seed!”7 Thus, upon the fruitful soil, it is not the actual kingdom that enters the hearts and minds of people. If this were so, Matthew 13:19 would merely employ the term the “kingdom” rather than the mere “word of the kingdom” in order to show what was interjected into the soil in order to make it fruitful. Rather, it is the message of the kingdom’s values and future certainty that is what enters the hearts and minds of individuals.
This message of the kingdom, in turn, produces “sons” or inheritors (Gal. 4:7) of the kingdom (Matt. 13:38). Just as the message of how to gain heaven can produce an inheritor of heaven, the same is true regarding the “message of the kingdom.” Toussaint and Quine properly interpret the expression “sons of the kingdom” as a kingdom heir: When Jesus explained in Matthew 13:36–43 His parable of the tares among the wheat (vv. 24–30), He said “the sons of the kingdom” and “the sons of the evil one” are represented by the good seed and the tares, respectively (v. 38).
The latter are obviously unbelievers, and the former are sons of the kingdom not in the sense that the kingdom is present but in the sense that as believers they will inherit the millennial kingdom.8 Moreover, such a notion of the message of the kingdom entering people should not be construed as a present, spiritual manifestation of the kingdom in the hearts of people since the Bible nowhere portrays the kingdom entering people. Rather, it is people who will one day enter the coming kingdom (Matt. 25:34; John 3:5). Beyond these distinctions, if the Parable of the Sower communicates anything concerning the gospel in the present age, it conveys its lack of progress. Only on one type of soil is the gospel fruitful. Even there, it is fruitful in decreasing proportions.
The lack of progress in the receptivity of the gospel as communicated in the Parable of the Sower conveys the idea that the present age should not be confused with the kingdom for the simple reason that the kingdom will represent a time in history when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9). Pink observes: One great design of this opening parable is to teach us the measure of success which the Gospel would receive among the Gentiles. In other words, we are shown what the results of this broadcast sowing of the Seed would be.
First of all, most of the ground upon which it fell would prove unfavorable: the hard, shallow, and thorny soils were uncongenial to productiveness. Second, external opposition would be encountered: the birds of the air would come and catch it away. Third, the sun would scorch, and that which was lacking in moisture at its roots would wither away. Only a fractional part of the Seed sown would yield any increase, and thus all expectations for the ultimate universal triumph of the Gospel were removed. The plain teaching of our present parable should at once dissipate the optimistic but vain dreams of post-millenarians. It answers clearly and conclusively the following questions: What is to be the result of the broadcast sowing of the seed? Will all the world receive it and every part of the field produce fruit? Will the seed spring up and bear a universal harvest, so that not a single grain of it is lost? Our Savior explicitly tells us that the greater part of the seed produces no fruit, so that no world-wide conquests by the Gospel, in the Christianizing of the race, are to be looked for. Nor was there any hint that, as the age progressed, there would be any change, and that later sowers would meet with greater success, so that the wayside, stony, and thorny ground hearers would cease to exist or would rarely be found. Instead of that, the Lord Himself has plainly warned us that instead of the fruitage from the Gospel showing an increase, there would be a marked decrease; for when speaking of the fruit borne He said, “which also bears fruit, and brings forth, some an hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty” (v. 23).9 The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares
The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matt. 13:24–30, 36–43) should also not be understood as communicating the present manifestation of the kingdom. The presence of the Tares, or unbelievers, continuously co-existing among the Wheat, or believers, until the end of the present age is enough to dispel the notion that the present age represents the kingdom. Again, Pink well observes: This parable, like the former, also supplies a most conclusive refutation of the unscriptural dreams of post-millennialism. They believe that, through the preaching of the Gospel (under the blessing of God), the cause of Christ will extend, until the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. But Christ here explicitly declared that the wheat and the tares should “grow together until the harvest,” which He defined as “the end of the age.” He gave no hint that the “tares” would gradually die out, or that they would decrease in numbers; but announced that, at the end, they would be found in such quantity as to need binding “in bundles.”10 This parable also speaks of the activity of Satan (Matt. 13:25, 28, 38–39). Pink observes, This was “while men slept” (v. 25); that is, at nighttime. In other words, it was under cover of the darkness that the Devil sowed his tares! This is characteristic of Satan, for he hates the light: secrecy, stealth, dishonesty, are his favorite tactics. But mark you, the Sower Himself did not sleep: He slumbers not, neither is weary. Nor does Satan. He is ever on the alert, going about, “seeking whom he may devour.” He is the personification of perpetual motion.11 How can such activity be confused with the kingdom since the kingdom represents a time in history when Satan will be bound and thus inactive (Rev. 20:1–3)?
The Parable of the Mustard Seed The Parable of the Mustard Seed is found in Matthew 13:31–32, which says, “He presented another parable to them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES.’” This parable is popularly interpreted as a prediction of the inevitable expansion of God’s kingdom throughout the world in the present age. Pink introduces four points that demonstrate why such an interpretation is found wanting: The popular and current explanation of these parables is that they were meant to announce the glorious success of the Gospel. Thus, that of the mustard-seed is regarded as portraying the rapid extension of Christianity and the expansion of the Church of Christ.
Beginning insignificantly and obscurely, its proportions have increased immensely, until ultimately it shall cover the earth. Let us first show how untenable and impossible this interpretation is: First, it must be steadily borne in mind that these seven parables form part of one connected and complete discourse whose teaching must necessarily be consistent and harmonious throughout. Therefore, it is obvious that this third one cannot conflict with the teaching of the first two. In the first parable, instead of drawing a picture of a field in which the good Seed took root and flourished in every part of it, our Lord pointed out that most of its soil was unfavorable, and that only a fractional proportion bore an increase. Moreover, instead of promising that the good-ground section of the field would yield greater and greater returns, He announced that there would be a decreasing harvest—“some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” In the second parable, our Lord revealed the field as over-sown with “tares,” and declared that these should continue until the harvest-time, which He defined as “the end of the age.” This fixes beyond all doubt the evil consequences of the Enemy’s work, and positively forbids the expectation of a world won to Christ during this present dispensation, Christ plainly warned us that the evil effects of the Devil’s labors at the beginning of the age would never be repaired. The crop as a whole is spoiled!
Thus this third parable cannot teach that the failure of things in the hands of men will be removed and reversed. Second, the figure here selected by Christ should at once expose the fallacy of the popular interpretation. Surely our Lord would never have taken a mustard-seed, which afterwards became a “tree,” ever rooting itself deeper and deeper in the earth, to portray that people whose calling, hope, citizenship, and destiny is heavenly. Again and again He affirmed that His people were “not of the world.” Again, a great tree with its towering branches speaks of prominence and loftiness, but lowliness and suffering, not prominence and exaltation, are the present portion of the New Testament saints. The more any church of Christ climbs the ladder of worldly fame the more it sinks spiritually. That which is represented by this “tree” is not a people who are “strangers and pilgrims” down here, but a system whose roots lie deeply in the earth and which aims at greatness and expansion in the world. Third, that which Christ here describes is a monstrosity. We are aware that this is denied by some, but our Lord’s own words are final. He tells us that when this mustard-seed is grown it is the “greatest among herbs, and becomes a tree” (v. 32). “Herbs” are an entirely different specie from trees. That which distinguished them is that their stems never develop woody tissue, but live only long enough for the development of flowers and seeds. But this “herb” became a “tree;” that is to say, it developed into something entirely foreign to its very nature and constitution. How strange that sober men should have deemed this unnatural growth, this abnormal production, a fitting symbol of the saints of God in their corporate form! . . . Clearly the “field,” all through Matthew 13, is the world. Is, then, “the world” a favorable place for the growth of that kingdom which Christ solemnly and expressly said was “not of this world” (John 18:36)? Is this world, where the flesh and the Devil unite in opposing all that concerns Christ and His interests, a congenial soil for Christianity? Either the world must cease to be what it is—“the enemy of God”—or the Seed must change its character, before the one will be favorable to the other. And this is just what our parable does teach: the “herb” becomes a “tree.” Fourth, the “birds” lodging in the branches of this tree makes altogether against the current interpretation. If Scripture be compared with Scripture it will be found that these “birds” symbolize Satan and his agents.
Let not the reader be turned aside by the fact that the “dove,” and in some passages the “eagle,” represents that which is good. That which we must now attempt to define is the actual word “birds,” or better, “fowls”—as the Greek word is rendered in verse 4. In Genesis 15:11 we are told that the “fowls came down upon the carcasses” (the bodies of the sacrifices) and that “Abram drove them away.” . . . Again, in Deuteronomy 28, where we have the curses which were to come upon Israel for their disobedience, we are told, “And thy carcass shall be meat unto all fowls of the air” (v. 26). The last time the term occurs in Scripture is in Revelation 18:2, where we are told that fallen Babylon becomes the “habitation of demons, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.” But we do not have to go outside of Matthew 13 itself to discover what Christ referred to under the figure of these “birds.” The Greek word in verse 32 is precisely the same as that which is rendered “fowls” in verse 4, which are explained in verse 19 as “the wicked.” How, then, can this great “tree” represent the true Church of Christ, while its branches afford shelter for the Devil and his emissaries? . . . if we let Scripture interpret Scripture, the great “tree” is easily identified in Daniel 4:10–12. . . . In Daniel 4:20–22 we have the inspired interpretation of the vision. . . . Thus, the “tree” was a figure of a mighty earthly kingdom or empire. Again, in Ezekiel 31 we have the same figure used. . . . Thus a “tree,” whose wide-spreading branches afforded lodgment for birds, was a familiar Old Testament figure for a mighty kingdom which gave shelter to the nations. So it is in our parable. The “tree” symbolizes earthly greatness, worldly prominence, giving shelter to the nations. The history of Christendom clearly confirms this. At the beginning, those who bore the name of Christ were but a despised handful. . . .
Finding that force was of no avail, the Enemy changed his tactics. Failing to intimidate as the roaring lion, he now sought to insinuate as the subtle serpent. Ceasing to attack from without, he now worked from within. In the first parable the assault was from without—the fowls of the air catching away the Seed. In the second parable his activities were from within—he sowed his tares among the wheat. In the third parable we are shown the effects of this. Satan now moved worldly men to seek membership in the churches of God. These soon caused the Truth to be watered down, discipline to be relaxed, that which repelled the world to be kept in the background, and what would appeal to the carnal mind to be made prominent. Instead of affections being set upon things above, they were fixed on things below. Soon Christianity ceased to be hated by the unregenerate: the gulf between the world and the “Church” was bridged. Persecution ceased, and the professed cause of the despised and rejected Savior became popular.
The distinctive truths of Christianity were abandoned, the Gospel was adulterated, the pilgrim character of professing saints ceased. . . . The lowly upper room had long been forsaken, and the honors of kings’ courts coveted. And God granted their fleshly desire—just as long before He had given Saul to apostate Israel when they forsook the path of separation and wished to be like the surrounding nations. . . . Thus we may discern in the first three parables of Matthew 13 a striking and sad forecast of the development of evil. In the first, the Devil caught away part of the good Seed. In the second, he is seen engaged in the work of imitation. Here, in the third, we are shown a corrupted Christianity affording him shelter.12 So far from communicating the expansion of the kingdom, the parable of the mustard seed actually teaches that the final form of Christendom will represent an apostate form of truth at great variance from its biblically pure origins.
The Parable of the Leaven Christ gave the Parable of the Leaven in Matthew 13:33. This verse says, “He spoke another parable to them, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.’” Perhaps more than any of the other parables found in Matthew 13, this parable is used by kingdom now theologians to teach that the kingdom is a present, spiritual reality. They interpret the yeast as the progress of the kingdom in the present world. Unfortunately numerous commentators miss the clear import of Christ’s teaching in the Parable of the Leaven (Matt. 13:33) by interpreting the leaven as something good rather than bad. Notice popular pastor John MacArthur’s interpretation of Matthew 13:33. The first point is that small things can have great influence. . . . The second point . . . is that the influence is positive. . . . When the kingdom of heaven is faithfully reflected in the lives of believers, its influence in the world is both pervasive and positive. The life of Christ within believers is spiritual and moral leavening in the world. . . . To the average person of Jesus’ day, Jew or Gentile, there is no evidence that leaven carried any connotation of evil or corruption. . . .
To take this leaven as representing evil that permeates the kingdom is to twist the obvious meaning and construction of words.13 Elsewhere, MacArthur notes: Here the kingdom is pictured as yeast, multiplying quietly and permeating all that it contacts. The lesson is the same as the parable of the mustard seed. Some interpreters suggested since leaven is nearly always a symbol of evil in Scripture. . . . It must carry that connotation here as well. They make the leaven some evil influence inside the kingdom. But that twists Jesus’ actual words and violates the context, in which Jesus is repeatedly describing the kingdom itself as their pervading influence.14 Concerning MacArthur’s interpretation, George Zeller appropriately notes: MacArthur’s interpretation is not far away from that of the postmillennial reconstructionist who also would understand the leaven as being used in a good sense and indicating the growth of the kingdom of heaven by means of the penetrating power of the gospel ultimately leading to the conversion of the world.15 Yet, when the yeast is properly understood as something pernicious rather than something that is good, an exact opposite interpretation is provided. Pink provides seven clues for properly interpreting the Parable of the Leaven. The popular interpretation of this parable regards the “leaven” as representing the Gospel and its power, the “woman” the Church. Here are the words of Dr. John Gill: “Leaven is everywhere else used in a bad sense . . . here it seems to be taken in a good sense, and the Gospel to be compared unto it.” The “woman,” he tells us, is “the church” or the ministers of the Gospel. . . . 1. If the popular view is correct then, in this chapter, Christ flatly contradicts Himself. What He has said in the first three parables is dead against world-conversion or even world-reformation by means of Gospel preaching. . . . 2. The post-millennial interpretation of this parable is flatly contradicted by what we are told in verses 11, 35 of Matthew 13.
There we learn that these parables are “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” “things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.” . . . the Gospel was not an unrevealed secret in O. T. times. Galatians 3:8 declares that the Gospel was “preached unto Abraham.” . . . 3. If the “leaven” represents the Gospel and the “meal” the human race, or, as Dr. Gill teaches, God’s elect in their natural condition then the figure which Christ here employed is a faulty one. And this in three different respects. First, in the way it works. How does “leaven” act? Why, it is simply placed in meal, and then it works of itself! That is all: just place it there, leave it alone, and it is bound to leaven the whole lump. But is that the way the Gospel works? Certainly not. Multitudes have received the Gospel, but it has had no effect upon them! . . . Second, in the actor here mentioned. It is a “woman” who places the leaven in the meal. But the Lord Jesus Christ has not committed His Gospel into the hands of women. There were none among the twelve, nor among the seventy whom he chose and sent forth. The preaching of the Gospel is a man’s job. . . . Third, in the effects it produces. When leaven is placed into meal it causes it to swell, it puffs it up! Is that what the Gospel does when it enters human hearts? No indeed. It produces the very opposite effect. It humbles, it abases. 4. The popular interpretation is contradicted by the plain facts of history and by present-day experience. . . .
The Gospel has now been preached for nineteen centuries, yet not a single nation or state, no, nor even city, town or village, has been completely evangelized—let alone won to Christ! If the popular view is the correct one, then the Gospel is a colossal and tragic failure. 5. To make the “leaven” a figure of the Gospel and its power, of that which is good, is to contradict every other passage in Scripture where this figure is used. Christ was speaking to a Jewish audience, and with their knowledge of the O. T.
Scriptures none of them would ever dream that He had reference to something that was good. With the Jews “leaven” was ever a figure of evil. The first time that “leaven,” in its negative form, occurs in the Bible is in Genesis 19:3, where we are told that Lot “did bake un-leavened bread” for the angels, and that “they did eat.” No doubt leavened bread was a common commodity in the wicked city of Sodom. . . . In Exodus 12 it will be found that Jehovah commanded the Israelites to rigidly purge their houses of all “leaven” at the Passover season.
Why was this if “leaven” is a type of that which is good? Exodus 34:25 tells us that God prohibited any “leaven” from accompanying offerings of blood. Leviticus 2:11 informs us that “leaven” was also excluded from every offering of the Lord made by fire. This parable in Matthew 13 is not the only occasion when the Lord Jesus employed this figure. How did He use it elsewhere? In Matthew 16:11 we find Him saying to the disciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” There, it is plainly a figure of that which is evil. So in Luke 12:1 He said, “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy.”
Would He then deliberately confuse His disciples by using it as the figure of good in Matthew 13? The Holy Spirit has also used this same figure through the apostle Paul. In what manner? In 1 Corinthians 5:6, 7 we read, “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump.” Would they be told to “purge out” that which was good? The last passage in the N. T. in which “leaven” is mentioned is Galatians 5:7–9. Note there three things: first, it is called “a persuasion”—something which exerts a powerful and moving influence. Second, it hinders men “from obeying the truth.” Third, it is expressly said to be “not from Him which calleth you.” Thus, that which is a thing of fermentation—really, incipient putrefaction—is, throughout Scripture, uniformly a figure of corruption—evil. It is remarkable that the word “leaven” occurs just thirteen times in the N. T., a number always associated with evil and the work of Satan. 6. Let us now consider the “three measures of meal.” Post-millennarians say that they represent the human race among whom the Gospel is working. If so, the “meal” is a figure of that which is evil. The human race is fallen, sinful, depraved; “the whole world lies in the Wicked one” (1 John 5:19). . . . “And Abram hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth” (Gen. 18:6). Did Abraham prepare for the Lord and His angels food out of that which symbolized evil? Note what is said in 1 Kings 17:14–16. God does not feed His servants on that which speaks of evil! Now where does “meal” for bread come from? Any child can answer: not from evil tares, but from good wheat. It is the product of the good Seed. Then that which is good, wholesome, nutritious, pure, can never be a figure of fallen and corrupt humanity.
In Genesis 18:6 the “three measures of meal” are a figure of Christ’s person, just as the “tender calf” in verse 7 which was killed and dressed prefigured His work. The meal is a type of Him who is the Corn of wheat (John 12:24) and the Bread of life. And thus in the language of N. T. symbolry the “meal” stands for the doctrine of Christ. 7. The action of the “woman” in our parable exposes the error of the common interpretation. She “took,” not “received;” and hid the leaven in the meal. Is this the way in which the servants of God preach His Gospel? Is the evangel something to be whispered in secret? Does God bid His servants act stealthily? No. The Lord has said to them, “What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetop” (Matthew 11:27). Writing to the Corinthians, and describing the character of his own ministry, the apostle Paul said, “We faint not, but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the Word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2).
But in our parable, the woman is acting dishonestly and deceitfully: she stealthily introduced a foreign and corrupting element into the meal. Her object was to effect its deterioration. If the reader will turn to Leviticus 2:11 he will find that this “woman” was doing the very thing which the Word of God forbade her; and he will also observe that she left out the oil, which was the very thing the Scriptures enjoined! . . . The “leaven” symbolizes the corrupting of God’s truth by the introduction of evil doctrine—compare Matthew 16:12.16 Pink’s understanding of the leaven working its way through the dough as representing something evil rather than something good is consistent with the interpretation provided by other respected scholars.
As previously noted, both Walvoord and Toussaint interpret the leaven in a negative sense. Thus, far from teaching the growth of the kingdom, the Parable of the Leaven, like the previous Parable of the Mustard Seed, is actually a parable concerning the progress of evil in the present age. A Transition in Christ’s Parables In sum, the first four parables, when collectively considered are not a description of the manifestation of the kingdom in the present age. Thus, Pink summarizes: What is in view in the first four parables is the sphere of human responsibility, and hence it is a picture of failure that is presented to us. In the first, only one out of the four castings of the good Seed yields any fruit. In the second, the crop as a whole is spoiled by the mingling of the tares among the wheat. In the third, the little mustard-seed develops into a great tree, whose branches afford shelter for the agents of Satan. In the fourth, the three measures of meal are, ultimately, completely corrupted by means of the leaven surreptitiously introduced into them.17 It should be pointed out that of the eight parables given in Matthew 13,18 the first four were spoken publicly when Jesus was outside of the house while sitting on the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 13:1–2). However, the remaining four parables were spoken while Jesus was in private with His disciples inside the house (Matt. 13:36). Because no textual explanation is given as to why Matthew divides this chapter in this manner, interpreters are left to mere conjecture.
Perhaps the first four parables, with their clear presentation that the course of the present age cannot be equated with what the Old Testament predicts concerning the manifestation of the earthly presence of the kingdom of God, led the disciples to a certain degree of despondency.
However, Christ spoke the remaining four parables to them in private in order to encourage them with the fact that God was still working in the present age despite the fact that the present age would not represent His kingdom. Pink explains: Now the first key to this parable is found in the fact that it was spoken by Christ after He had dismissed the multitudes and had taken His disciples into the house. This parable, unlike the four which precede it, was spoken to the disciples only. Those disciples must have been perplexed and dismayed at the gloomy picture which Christ had drawn of the form which His kingdom was going to assume in this world after His departure. He told them, or at least He had said in their hearing, that they would go forth and scatter the good Seed broadcast, but, with meager results. . . . Second, He had said that the Devil would turn farmer and over-sow the field with tares. And they were forbidden to pluck them up. . . . Third, He had warned them that His professing cause on earth would develop so extensively and rapidly that it would be like a little mustard-seed growing up into a herb, ultimately becoming a tree, with wide spreading branches; but that the Devil and his agents would find shelter in them; Fourth, He announced that into the meal, which was the emblem of His pure truth, a foreign and corrupting element would be introduced, stealthily and secretly, and the outcome should be that ultimately the whole of the meal would be leavened. Yes, there was every reason for the poor disciples to be perplexed and dismayed. . . . He made known to them that, though the outward professing cause of Christianity upon earth would develop so tragically, yet there will be no failure on the part of God. He tells them there are two bodies, two elect peoples, who are inexpressibly precious in His sight, and that through them He will manifest the inexhaustible riches of His grace and glory—and that, in the two realms of His dominion—on the earth and in heaven.
Two distinct elect companies, one the “treasure” hid in the field, symbolizing the literal nation of Israel; the other, the one “pearl,” symbolizing the one body which has a heavenly calling, destiny, citizenship, and inheritance. The order of these next two parables is this: “To the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Therefore, the hidden treasure in the field, the symbol of Israel, is given before the pearl, which is the figure of the Church.19 The Parable of the Treasure
The Parable of the Treasure is found in Matthew 13:44, which says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Sadly, this parable is frequently interpreted as a picture of personal salvation of the sinner. However, such a view quickly collapses simply by consistently interpreting the man and the field. Pink notes:
The common interpretation of this parable, both by Calvinists and Arminians, is as far removed from what I am fully assured is its true meaning as is the explanation they give of the earlier ones in Matthew 13. Dr. John Gill tells us that the treasure in this parable is “the Gospel,” that the field in which the treasure is hidden is “the Scriptures,” and that the man who sought and found the treasure is “an elect and awakened sinner.” It is amazing how such an exegete of the Scriptures, and a man so deeply taught of God, could wander so far astray when he came to this parable. In the first place, the “field” is mentioned in two of the preceding parables—the field in which the good Seed was sown, and the field that was over-sown by tares; and in verse 38 of this very chapter Christ has told us the field is the world. Then why should it be supposed that the field means something entirely different in this fifth parable of the same chapter? Again, we have already had a “man” before us in the first two parables—a man who sowed good Seed in his field (v. 24). The Lord Jesus Himself has told us who that man is: “He that sows the good seed is the Son of man” (v. 37). If, then, the man in the second parable represents the Son of man, why, in this fifth parable, without any word to the contrary, are we to understand Him to point to someone entirely different?20 Pink continues dismantling the popular interpretation of the parable involving personal salvation by surfacing four additional arguments.
Against the popular interpretation of the parable we advance these objections: First, if in this parable the Lord Jesus was setting forth the way of salvation, teaching that earnestness and diligence are needed on the part of an awakened sinner if he is to reach the treasure and make it his own (which treasure is hidden from the dilatory and careless), then how strange it is that it was not spoken in the hearing of the multitude! Instead, we are told that Christ had sent the multitude away, had entered the house and spoke this parable to His disciples only. Second, in this parable the treasure is hid in “the field,” and, as we have seen, the field is the “world.” In what possible sense is Christ or the Gospel hidden in the world? In the third place, when the man had found this treasure he hid it again: “the which when a man has found, he hides.”
If the treasure represents the Gospel and the field be the world, and if the man who is seeking the treasure be an awakened sinner, then our parable teaches that God requires the awakened sinner, after he has found peace and obtained salvation, to go out and hide it in the world! How absurd! Christ plainly told His disciples to let their light, so shine that men might see their good works and glorify their Father which is in heaven. In the fourth place, in the parable we are told that after this man had found the treasure and then hid it again, that he went and “sold all that he had” and “bought it.” What does an awakened sinner have to sell, and what is it that he purchases?
Surely not the world!21 If the Parable of the Treasure is not speaking of personal salvation, then of what is it speaking? A better interpretation of the parable is as follows. The man represents Christ. The treasure represents national Israel. Throughout the Old Testament Israel is typically spoken of as God’s treasure and special possession (Exod. 19:5; Deut. 14:2; 32:8; Ps. 135:4). Pink observes, “Confirmation of this definition of the ‘treasure’ in our parable, is found in the fact that never once in the twenty-one Epistles in the New Testament is the word ‘treasure’ used of the Church! It is never applied to the saints of this present dispensation.”22 The treasure’s hidden state shows Israel’s apostasy.
The uncovering of the treasure refers to Christ’s offer of the kingdom to first-century Israel (Matt. 15:24). The re-hiding of the treasure refers to Israel’s rejection of this kingdom offer (Matt. 12; John 1:11) and subsequent divine discipline (Deut 32:28–29).
The purchase of the field refers to Christ dying for Israel’s sins (2 Peter 2:1). The implicit coming again of the man to obtain the treasure refers to Israel’s conversion at the conclusion of the mystery age. Yet, the coming again of the man to obtain the treasure is only implicit and is not explicit in the parable. Pink notes how such implicity conveys the idea that Israel’s prominence, and hence the kingdom, are absent in the present age: First, we have the treasure hid in the field: that takes us back to the beginning of Israel’s history as a nation. Second, we have the Man finding that treasure; that is Christ coming to this earth and confining His message to the Jews in Palestine. Third, we have the Man hiding the treasure; that is Christ’s judgment upon Israel because of their rejection of Him referring to their dispersion abroad throughout the earth. Fourth, we have the Man purchasing the treasure and the whole field in which it was found, referring to the death of Christ.
Now, have you noticed there is a fifth point omitted?—the logical completion of the parable would be the Man actually possessing the treasure that He purchased. He hid it, then He purchased it. Logically, the parable needs this to complete it—the Man owning and possessing the treasure. Why is that left out? Because it lies outside the scope of Matthew 13. This chapter, dealing with the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” has to do with the history of Christendom.
It describes the cause of Christ on this earth during the period of His absence, and therefore there is nothing in this parable about the restoration of Israel and the Lord possessing His earthly treasure, because that comes after this dispensation is over, after the history of Christendom has been wound up, after the new age has been inaugurated, namely, the Millennium! How perfect is Scripture in its omissions! For passages treating of Christ’s recovery and possession of the treasure see Amos 9:14, 15; Acts 15:17. In due time the Jews shall be manifested as God’s peculiar “treasure” on “earth”—see Isaiah 62:1–4.23 Thus, the parable of the earthen treasure teaches that although Christ came to purchase Israel, the nation will remain in unbelief throughout the course of the mystery age and will not be converted until the age’s conclusion. Since, as we have seen, the manifestation of the kingdom is expressly tied to Israel’s response to her own messiah (Exod. 19:5; Deut. 17:15; Matt. 23:37–39), the present age involving Israel’s hidden state indicates that the kingdom will be equally hidden throughout the present age as well.
The bottom line is that the present age cannot be the kingdom since the kingdom concerns Israel and the Parable of the Hidden Treasure anticipates Israel’s hidden status throughout this mystery age. The Pearl of Great Price While, as revealed in the first four parables, evil will progress in the present age and Israel’s program, as indicated by the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, will remain in postponement, God will still be at work in the present age. This divine work is revealed in the Pearl of Great Price (Matt. 13:45–46). According to this parable, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Sadly, this parable, like the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, is popularly misconstrued as a lesson about personal salvation. Pink explains: The general conception of its meaning is this! Christianity is likened unto one who earnestly desired and diligently sought salvation. Ultimately his efforts were rewarded by his finding Christ, the Pearl of great price.
Having found Him, as presented in the Gospel, the sinner sold all that he had: that is to say, he forsook all that the flesh held dear, he abandoned his worldly companions, he surrendered his will, he dedicated his life to God; and in that way, secured his salvation. The awful thing is that this interpretation is the one which, substantially, is given out almost everywhere throughout Christendom today. That is what is taught in the great majority of the denominational Sunday School periodicals. During the last twenty years I have examined scores of Sunday School teachers’ aids in which an exposition of this parable has been found.
The one which I have just given is an outline of that which has commonly been advanced.24 Yet, the man in the parable is Christ rather than a believer. If it is concluded that the man is a believer rather than Christ, then this parable teaches a works-oriented salvation. Pink elaborates by furnishing three reasons as to why the Parable of Great Price should not be understood in such a manner: How was it with the first sinner?
When Adam sinned, and in the cool of the evening of that first awful day, the voice of the Lord was heard rolling down the avenues of Eden; what did he do? Did he hasten to the Lord and cast himself at His feet and cry for mercy? No, he did not seek the Lord at all; he fled. The first sinner did not “seek” God—the Lord sought him: “Adam, where art thou?” And it has ever been thus. How was it with Abraham? There is nothing whatever in Scripture to indicate that Abraham sought God; there is not a little to the contrary. He himself was a heathen, his parents idolaters worshiping other gods—as the last chapter of Joshua tells us—and the Lord suddenly appeared to him in that heathen city. Abraham had not been seeking God; it was God who sought him. And thus it has been all through the piece. When the Savior came here He declared, “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). But perhaps there are some saying in themselves, “I cannot deny my own experience; I know quite well there was as a time when ‘I sought the Lord.’ ” We do not deny it; what we would call attention to is, there was something before that. What caused you to “seek” the Lord? Ah, the truth is, you sought Him because He first sought you—just as truly as you love Him because He first loved you. It is not the sheep that seeks the Shepherd; it is the Shepherd who seeks the sheep. . . . Thus, to make this parable teach that the natural man, an unconverted sinner, is seeking Christ, “the Pearl of great price,” is to repudiate Scripture and to dishonor the grace of God. In Romans 3:11 are these words, and they are final: “There is none that seeks after God.” No, there is not one. There are multitudes that seek after pleasure, and seek after wealth, but there is none that seeks after “God.” He is the great Seeker. Oh that He may seek out some poor, needy souls now, and show them their need of Him, and create in their hearts a longing after Himself. O Spirit of God seek out Thine own. In the second place, we are told in the popular interpretation of this parable that, having sought and found Christ, the Pearl of great price, the sinner sells all that he has and buys it, But that cannot be, because the sinner has nothing to sell! Righteousness he has none, for Isaiah 64:6 says that all our righteousnesses are as “filthy rags.” Goodness he has none, for Romans 3:12 tells us “There is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Faith he has none, for that is God’s “gift” (Eph. 2:8). The sinner has nothing to sell. The popular view of this parable turns God’s truth upside down, for He declares that salvation is without money and without price (Isa. 55:1). In the third place, to say that the sinner sells all that he has and buys the one pearl of great price—buys Christ—is positively awful! What a travesty! What a blasphemy! If there is one thing taught more clearly than anything else in Holy Writ, it is that salvation cannot be purchased by man: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:5). “The gift of God is eternal life” (Rom. 6:23). If it is a “gift” it is not to be sold or bartered. Pink begins to give the correct interpretation of the parable by properly identifying the man as Christ: Let us give now what we believe is the true interpretation of this parable: Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman.” The “man” referred to is Christ, as He is all through this chapter. The “man” that sowed the good Seed in the field in the first parable is Christ. The “man” referred to in verse 24 at the beginning of the second parable is Christ, and the “man” in this parable, the “merchantman,” is the Lord Jesus.
25 Thus, the Parable of the Pearl of Great price refers to Christ’s death that will redeem many Gentiles and Jews26 throughout mystery age. Although evil will advance throughout the mystery age, God’s redemptive program will also simultaneously advance. Through this parable, Christ taught His desire for, value of, and price He would pay for all who would come to saving faith in Christ in the present mystery age. No doubt, the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price brought much needed comfort to the disciples who were most likely beleaguered due to their discovery of the progress of evil in the new age, as had been disclosed to them in the prior parables.
The Parable of the Dragnet According to the Parable of the Dragnet (Matt. 13:47–50): Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind; and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away. So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Despite the many salvations throughout the mystery age, the present age should not be confused with the kingdom.
As was also taught by the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matt. 13:24–30, 36–43), Satan’s counterfeit sowing would also be a reality throughout the age resulting the coexistence of the righteous and the wicked throughout the mystery age only to be separated by Christ at the age’s conclusion. Here, Christ reminded the disciples of this basic lesson through His description of the bad fish amongst the good. As Pink observes: The result is that there is a mixed profession. The net gathers in “of every kind.” Just as at the beginning of the age there were the wheat and tares, so at the end of the age (to which this parable conducts us) there are bad fish as well as good. Now . . . the fact that this net gathered in bad fishes as well as good ones was no reflection upon the skill of the fishermen. But on the other hand, they were responsible to distinguish between the good and the bad fish after they had entered the net, and they were responsible to separate the one from the other.27 Yet, the ultimate separation between the righteous and the wicked, as was also taught in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, would eventually be accomplished only by God Himself at the age’s conclusion, resulting in the coexistence of good and evil throughout the present age.
Parable of the Householder Christ concluded His parables concerning the inter-advent age with the Parable of the Householder (Matt. 13:51–52), which says, “‘Have you understood all these things?’ They said to Him, ‘Yes.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.’” This parable teaches that these new kingdom mysteries as disclosed in these parables found in Matthew 13 must be considered alongside Old Testament kingdom truth if one is to understand the totality of God’s kingdom agenda. In other words, to gain a complete perspective on the outworking of God’s kingdom program, the Matthew 13 parables must be studied alongside Old Testament kingdom truth in order to comprehend the course of the present age involving the coexistence of good and evil prior to the ultimate establishment of Christ’s earthly kingdom. Only by augmenting these new inter-advent teachings found in Matthew 13 alongside what they already knew about the kingdom from the Old Testament would they be able to understand all that God is doing and will do. Toussaint and Quine summarize as follows: “The parable of the householder in verse 52 is the concluding parable, in which Jesus was saying that the disciples were responsible to teach these new truths as well as the old truths of the Old Testament.”28 Summary and Conclusion Looking at all the Matthew 13 parables in their totality should amply demonstrate to an objective reader that the current age cannot be the kingdom. Note Pink’s summation of the contribution that this section of Scripture makes toward a proper understanding of the kingdom: “The evil introduction by Satan at the beginning of this dispensation has never been eradicated, nor will it be till harvest-time.
Instead of things getting better, Scripture explicitly declares they will become ‘worse and worse;’ until Christ will ‘spew out’ the whole system that bears His name.”29 Pink’s summary of each parable explains why they fail to convey a “kingdom now” theology: Let us now briefly review the details of these parables. The first represents our Lord still here upon earth, in Servant-form, scattering broadcast the Seed of the kingdom. It intimates the ratio of the Gospel’s success, and forewarns us that only a fractional portion thereof produces abiding results. It makes known, from the human side, the various hindrances which render most of the Seed unfertile.
Thus, this parable plainly repudiates the popular delusion which supposes that this age will yet witness a universal reception of the Gospel; it positively forbids any expectation of a millennium brought about by human enterprise or the labors of Christ’s servants. It declares that as the result of the opposition of the devil, the flesh and the world, most of the Seed is either caught away or choked, and general barrenness is the result. Nor is there any hint at the close of the parable that such opposition would cease or that the yield would increase; instead, the Lord affirmed that it would decrease from an hundred-fold down to thirty-fold. The history of the last nineteen centuries has fully corroborated the teaching of this parable and made manifest the fulfillment of Christ’s prediction.
Only a fractional proportion of people in any land, state, city, or village really receive the Gospel! Not only is this true in general throughout the world, but it applies with equal force to the religious sphere. Where is the church to-day which can carry on its work if the faithful minority were removed? [In] the second parable . . . though the “tares” were detected, orders were given that they must not be removed; they were to “grow together” with the wheat until the harvest. It is a great pity that many with more zeal than knowledge have ignored this command of Christ’s. This word of His at once exposes the uselessness, worthlessness, and unscripturalness of “reform” movements and efforts. Men have indulged the idle dream that they could improve the world by ridding it of noxious weeds: in other words, by the banishment of drunkenness and immorality, and the purifying of politics—as well might they attempt to purify the waters of the Dead Sea! Christ said, “Let both grow;” do not waste time in seeking to get rid of the “tares.” “Preach the Gospel to every creature” is our marching-order, and due attention to it will leave no time for seeking to root up weeds!
Finally, it is blessed to note that the Enemy can neither injure the wheat nor prevent the garnering of it. The sowing of his tares was by God’s permission. [In] the third parable . . . the little mustard-seed developed into a monstrosity, and produced that which gave shelter for the agents of the Devil. Instead of living as strangers and pilgrims here, professing Christians took part in politics and sought to reform the State. Instead of having as their hope the returning Christ, they sought to improve the world, and to such an extent did they imagine they had succeeded, it was announced that the millennium had commenced. The parable of the leaven presents to us something still more tragic. Just as the mustard-tree depicted the outward corruption of the Christian profession, this fourth parable shows us the inward corruption of it. Into the “meal,” which represents the pure doctrine of Christ, a foreign element was stealthily introduced.
This was designed to make the food of God’s people lighter and more palatable to the world; but it corrupted the same. The Lord announced that this evil process would continue until the whole was leavened. This cannot be completely realized while the Holy Spirit remains on earth; but how nearly this prophecy has become history shows us how very close at hand must be the time when He will take His departure. . . . The fifth and the sixth parables bring before us the gracious and blessed work of Christ, securing for Himself two Objects which are inexpressibly precious to Him, namely, the “treasure” hid in the field and the “pearl” from the sea; which represent redeemed Israel and the Church of the present dispensation. This gives us the brighter side of things, and shows that, notwithstanding Satan’s Divinely-permitted success, Christ shall yet “see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied” (Isa. 53:11). In connection with the next parable. . . .
The careful reader will observe that this contains a principle similar to that found in connection with the interpretation of the second parable which is given in verses 41–43. . . . This is clear from the fact that the “vessels” into which the “good fish are gathered” are on earth. The execution of judgment upon the “tares” and on the “bad fish” occurs at a later date, and this was indicated by Christ Himself, in His giving the interpretation separately and after the parable itself. In further confirmation of what has just been said, it is to be noted that, the fishermen have nothing to do with the work of judgment.30 What then can be said of the present age as revealed by our Lord in these parables that are recorded in Matthew 13? While the present age represents a time involving both the progress of evil as well as the divine program, it should not be confused with what the Scripture predicts concerning the coming kingdom. Mystery Form of the Kingdom?
A related mistake typically made even by dispensational interpreters is to contend that the Matthew 13 parables reveal a present spiritual form of the kingdom known as the “mystery form of the kingdom.” While not contending that the Davidic kingdom is present, they instead believe that the kingdom is spiritually present in mystery form only.31 However, even this perspective is to read far more into the text of Matthew 13 than what is actually there. Toussaint explains: It is often alleged that the Lord predicted a form of the kingdom for the Church age in His parables, particularly those in Matthew 13. For many years dispensationalists have referred to these parables as teaching a mystery form or a new form of the kingdom. . . .
However, nowhere in Matthew 13 or anywhere does the Lord Jesus use the term mystery form. Rather, He refers to the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (v. 11); that is, the Lord in these parables is giving to His disciples new truths about the kingdom that were hitherto unknown. It is strange that so many dispensationalists claim a new form of the kingdom is introduced in Matthew 13. Dispensationalists argue strenuously for a literal, earthly kingdom that is the fulfillment of the Old Testament when John, Jesus, and His disciples announce its nearness. Then suddenly these dispensationalists change the meaning in Matthew 13.32 McClain similarly observes: The fiction of a present “kingdom of heaven” established on earth in the Church, has been lent some support by an incautious terminology sometimes used in defining the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:11). The parables of this chapter, it is said carelessly by some, describe the kingdom of heaven as now existing in “mystery form” during the Church age. Now it is true that these parables present certain conditions related to the Kingdom which are contemporaneous with the present age. But nowhere in Matthew 13 is the establishment of the Kingdom placed within this age. On the contrary, in two of these parables the setting up of the Kingdom is definitely placed at the end of the “age” (vss. 39 and 49 ASV, with 41–43).33
As these citations explain, there are at least four problems associated with equating the “kingdom mysteries” of Matthew 13 with a present spiritual form of the kingdom in “mystery form.” First, although Christ uses the expression “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (v. 11), Matthew 13, or any other place in Christ’s teachings for that matter, fails to employ the expression “mystery form of the kingdom.” These words must be read into the text. Second, the word “kingdom” or basileia must be interpreted inconsistently in Matthew’s Gospel in order to justify the existence of a present mystery form of the kingdom. While premillennial dispensationalists interpret the word “kingdom” in reference to the future earthly reign of Christ in most of Matthew’s uses of the word (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 6:10; 7:21; 8:11; 10:7; 24:14; 25:1, 34; 26:29), they inconsistently attach a spiritualized and allegorized meaning to the same word in Matthew 13. Third, according to the revelation of the Times of the Gentiles as given to the prophet Daniel (Dan. 2; 7), the earthly theocracy terminated with the deposing of Zedekiah in 586 B.C. and will not return until the Second Advent (Matt. 25:31). As explained in an earlier chapter, during this period known as the Times of the Gentiles, Judah will be trampled down by various Gentile powers. Only after the final kingdom of man (the revived Roman Empire of the Antichrist) has been terminated by Christ, will God’s kingdom be established on earth (Dan. 2:34–35; 43–45; 7:23–27). Thus, during the Times of the Gentiles, no spiritual form of the kingdom on earth is predicted by Daniel. This omission includes allusions to any spiritual form of the kingdom whatsoever, whether it be a spiritual form of the Davidic Kingdom, an “already but not yet” present manifestation of the Davidic Kingdom, a mystery form of the kingdom, or any other sophisticated vocabulary “kingdom now” theologians choose to employ. The lack of any reference to an earthly kingdom prior to Christ’s Second Advent in Daniel’s prophecies should deter interpreters from finding a premature spiritual manifestation of the kingdom in the present Church Age.
Unfortunately, those promoting a “mystery form of the kingdom” ignore this Danielic chronology by arguing for a present, spiritual form of the kingdom, despite the fact that the kingdoms of man have not yet run their course, the Antichrist and his kingdom have not yet been overthrown, and the Second Advent has not yet occurred. Fourth, the whole “mystery form of the kingdom” idea seems to be more of the product of eisegesis (bringing to the biblical text what is not there) rather than exegesis (drawing out of the text what is naturally there). Since most dispensationalists adhere to a present mystery form of the kingdom, I too was taught this kingdom now theology early on. In fact, at one point, I even embraced this idea. However, I eventually became disillusioned with the concept after discovering its origin.
The idea goes back to amillennialists (those who do not believe in a future earthly reign of Christ since the kingdom promises are being spiritually realized in the present age) accusing dispensationalists (those who believe that God has dealt with humanity through seven successive ages called dispensations) of dividing up the Bible to such an extent that the Scripture no longer contained a unifying and overarching theme. This charge upset dispensationalists to such a degree that they set out to find a unifying theme in the Bible. The theme that they settled upon was the kingdom. Thus, they sought to show the presence of the kingdom in every age or dispensation. This ambition, in turn, led them to conclude that the kingdom is present in “mystery form” only (Matt. 13:11). However, the hermeneutical danger associated with trying to make all of Scripture adhere to a predetermined theme, is that one ends up bringing a theology to the text rather than drawing a theology from the text. This explanation of the origin of the “mystery form of the kingdom” concept helps explain why so many dispensationalists source the idea in Matthew 13 despite the fact that this theology is not borne out by a careful exegesis of this chapter. In sum, the eight parables found in Matthew 13 represent the spiritual conditions of the present age while the kingdom remains in a state of postponement. These parables, when collectively considered, reveal the coexistence of both good and evil during the inter-advent age. Thus, during this mystery age, both Satan and God will be at work. However, God’s work notwithstanding, the present age should not be confused with what the Old Testament reveals concerning the Messianic kingdom. Neither should this divine activity be categorized as a “mystery form of the kingdom.” 1. John F. Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come (Chicago: Moody, 1974), 102–4. 2. Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold the King: A Study of Matthew (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 2005), 182. 3. A. W. Pink (2005). The Prophetic Parables of Matthew Thirteen. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.” End Quote