The Framework of History (2)
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field…The field is the world…” Matthew 13.24, 38
It’s about more than us
Secular people see the world in terms of their own interests. History matters only to the extent that it impinges on me and mine, whether for good or ill. Looking out for number 1 is not a spectator sport for this under-the-sun generation; it’s every individual’s calling and right.
Sadly, this attitude has leached into the Church. Many of those who profess faith in Jesus think of their faith primarily in terms of how it benefits them. Rick Warren was half right when he warned, in the opening lines of his book, The Purpose Driven Life, “It’s not about you.” Salvation is not just about us; it’s about more than us, much more, indeed.
It’s about everything.
Focus on the Kingdom
The first lesson to understand about the parable of the wheat and the tares is that it is not about the individual Christian life. That will be hard for many contemporary believers to process, since they can only think of salvation in terms of their next need, crisis, or concern. But Jesus has larger issues in mind in this parable, and only in their light can we understand our times and know what we must do.
Jesus declares to the focus of this parable in His opening words: “The kingdom of heaven…” This is a parable about a reality larger than all our lives, a reality which Jesus brought near and introduced into the flow of history. It is an all-encompassing, all-transforming reality, and it provides the framework within which to understand history and everything in it.
That reality is the Kingdom of heaven, or the Kingdom of God, which Jesus now administers from the right hand of the Father (Ps. 110). History is the staging-ground for the unfolding of His eternal reign of justice and righteousness, which He is increasing and will increase without end, right on into eternity (Is. 9.7). This Kingdom, Paul explained, is characterized by righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14.17). All followers of Christ are commanded to seek this Kingdom as their first and overarching priority in life (Rom. 14.18; Matt. 6.33).
The central story of history, thus, is not about you. It’s not even about secular man and his fervent religious quest for self-actualization. The central story of history is the Kingdom of God.
A vast domain
Jesus received the Kingdom upon ascending to heaven following His resurrection (cf. Pss. 47, 110; Dan. 7.13, 14). This Kingdom is first a dominion rather than a place. It encompasses all authority in heaven and in earth, and exerts transforming spiritual power to make all things new (Matt. 28.18; 1 Cor. 4.20; 2 Cor. 5.17-21; Rev. 21.5). Jesus has given this Kingdom to His followers, in the Person of His Holy Spirit (Rom. 14.17, 18), and He commands His followers to seek and advance His rule on earth as it is in heaven (Dan. 7.18-27; Matt. 6.10, 33). That Kingdom has been advancing like a growing stone against the kingdoms of darkness from the time of the apostles to the present, and nothing can keep it from realizing the purposes for which Christ has given it (Dan. 2.44, 45; 1 Jn. 2.8).
“How can that be?” many will no doubt ask. After all, there is so much evil, suffering, and ungodliness in this world! Whole cultures are closed to the Gospel, and vast segments even of our own society have blocked admission of Christian truth. Our secular world appears to be in the grasp of forces too strong to permit the Kingdom of God to advance much farther than the walls of local churches. Wickedness is on the increase, and the Church is threatened on every hand. Surely we should just group together, encourage one another in love, and hope for the Lord’s soon return?
This, sadly, is the view of history, the Gospel, and the Christian worldview currently embraced by a great many contemporary Christians, at least in America. But it is decidedly not the view that Jesus taught, or that the Church has, by and large, embraced for nearly 2,000 years.
The Kingdom of God comes, in Jesus’ words, with spiritual violence against the fortresses and redoubts of unbelief (Matt. 11.12; cf. 2 Cor. 10.3-5). By the power of the Spirit and Word of God, all the counsels of hell and every flimsy protest of sinful men collapse under the advancing weight and thrust of that realm of grace and truth (Matt. 16.18; Ps. 33.10-12). This does not mean that every human being is going to be saved, or that the Church will succeed in bringing all of heaven to all of earth before Jesus returns. But it does mean that a new era has begun, a new King is on the throne, a new power has come among men, a new ethic is established and spreading, and a new hope is available to all who believe the Gospel. And where that power rules in the hearts of Jesus’ followers, it even exerts a restraining effect on evil (cf. Ps. 81.13-15).
Someone will say, “OK, but I don’t see it.” And that’s not surprising. We have been taught that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is mainly about forgiveness and going to heaven, that the world is implacably entrenched in sin, that the darkness is going to get even darker before the return of Jesus, and that the best we can hope for is the comforting presence of God’s Spirit to keep us against the inevitable and growing wickedness of the world.
But thus to understand our times is not to understand them at all, and it’s no wonder that Christians who believe this way have proven ineffectual in knowing what to do to advance the Kingdom in our secular age.
1. What is the Kingdom of God? What is the Christian’s relationship to the Kingdom of God? What does it mean to seek the Kingdom?
2. Paul says that believers have been called to the Kingdom and glory of God (1 Thess. 2.12). What does it mean to have this as the primary and defining calling of our lives?
3. Why do Christians so easily fall for the idea that Christianity is all about them? How can we resist this tendency in our own lives?
Next steps – Conversation: Ask some of your Christian friends about their understanding of the Kingdom of God and their place in it. Share some of insights gained from this article.
T. M. Moore
For a more complete study of the book of Ecclesiastes, download our Scriptorium series on Ecclesiastes by clicking here. Ecclesiastes is an excellent book to share with an unbelieving friend, as it confronts all the idols and vain hopes of unbelief, exposing their folly and holding out the hope of life in God alone. We’ve prepared a verse translation of Ecclesiastes which is suitable for sharing with believers and unbelievers alike. Order your copy of Comparatio, by clicking here.
For a more developed view of the Kingdom, and of the Gospel of the Kingdom, order a copy of our book The Kingdom Turn (click here) or The Gospel of the Kingdom (click here).
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.