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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus: The Progress of the Kingdom

Jesus expects His Kingdom to grow.

The Kingdom Presence: New Testament (6)

Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” Matthew 13.31-33

Inevitable growth
The parables of our Lord Jesus Christ concerning the Kingdom of God reveal just how important this new reality was to His mission. They show us not only how He thought about this spiritual realm which He was bringing near, but how we should think about it as well.

As we have seen, the Kingdom of God held primacy of place in Jesus’ message. The Gospel Jesus proclaimed and accomplished is the Gospel of the Kingdom, not merely of going to heaven. The Kingdom of God was the defining motif and the overarching objective in all His work and teaching, and He taught that it must have the same place in the lives of all who follow Him.

Jesus, moreover, insisted on the proximity of the Kingdom, that it had come and was being “brought near” by Him and His mission. The Kingdom would come in an even fuller and more significant way within the lifetimes of those who heard Him, and beyond that, in its full and complete form at the final harvest and the end of history.

Given the primacy of the Kingdom, it is to be expected that Jesus would enlarge on the priorities of that heavenly domain which He had now brought into the sphere of human history. Those priorities—knowing the Lord and bearing lasting fruit—would be identifying marks for all who follow Jesus in seeking the Kingdom of God. If we are followers of Christ, then seeking the Kingdom is the defining theme of our lives; and increasing in the knowledge of the Lord so that we bear fruit are primaryobjectives for our journey.

As the patriarchs and prophets also saw
A final element of our Lord’s vision of the Kingdom involves His unmistakable sense that the Kingdom of God would grow and make progress upon the earth. As Jesus understood it—and more importantly, according to the agenda He is now pursuing—the Kingdom should grow like a vast tree and spread like leaven in a loaf of bread.

This is in line with what was promised about the Kingdom from the very beginning (cf. Gen. 1.26-28; Dan. 2.44, 45; Is. 9.6, 7). We cannot read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom and not see that, in His mind, the Kingdom He was bringing near would, wherever it took root, make progress and grow to bring forth the fruit evidenced in His own life and insisted on in His teaching.

We should expect, therefore, that the rule of King Jesus unto righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit will increase in us as well as through us as we continue seeking the Kingdom of God.

We may observe this insistence on the progress of the Kingdom in four ways, after which we will summarize two implications that arise from Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God. We’ll look at the first two of these ways in this installment.

Parables and miracles of growth
Many of the parables Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God have to do with the idea of growth, for example, the parable of the mustard seed and that of the leaven. The Kingdom is “sown” into the earth or “hidden” in it. This refers to the preaching of the Word, which, wherever it finds welcoming soil, takes root and begins to grow and spread. As it grows, it becomes visible, prominent, fruit-bearing, and beneficial to all who participate in its fruit. Like leaven, it transforms its environment from something bland and unpalatable into that which can be made wholesome and good.

The parables in Matthew 13 are typical of this emphasis (we’ll hold off on the parable of the wheat and tares for the moment). In the parable of the sower, good seed grows in good soil and bears fruit for those for whom it is intended (vv. 1-8, 18-23). The parables of the mustard seed and the leaven equally emphasize the growing and expanding character of the Kingdom (vv. 31-33). The parable of the fish net (vv. 47-50) is interesting in that it demonstrates that not all those who are gathered into the “net” of the Kingdom are those for whom the Kingdom is intended. Many, it seems, will enjoy the benefits introduced by the Kingdom of God, and perhaps even consider themselves full-fledged citizens therein, only to be disqualified in the end because they neither know the Lord nor bear the fruit which such knowledge produces (cf. Matt. 7.21-23).

Such parables, accompanied by miracles emphasizing astonishing multiplications (feeding the thousands, water into wine, sudden large catches of fish) impress us not only with Jesus’ sense of the inevitability of the progress of His Kingdom, but of His determination and ability to bring that progress to pass. This is a vision of the Kingdom which, as we have seen, comports well with what previous Kingdom visionaries also anticipated.

The presence of the Kingdom here and now is a growing and transforming presence. This is what we are seeking as we seek the Kingdom and righteousness of God.

Called to bear fruit
It is inconceivable that Jesus would have commanded His disciples to bear fruit in the ways we previously noted unless He intended them to do so and expected them to labor diligently for such fruit. Fruit expresses increase, and fruit that remains holds the promise of more fruit yet to come.

Jesus envisioned His rule growing in and through His followers unto love for God and men, righteousness, the multiplication of disciples, and the reconciliation of all things to God through Him. This expectation of and command for fruitfulness marks out parameters of Kingdom progress for the followers of Christ, both as individuals and as communities, and is a second evidence that Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom is one of progress and development.

For reflection or discussion

1. Meditate on Daniel 2.44, 45 and Isaiah 9.6, 7. How can you see that these passages must have been in Jesus’ mind as He taught about the Kingdom of God?

2. What should Kingdom increase look like in your life? How should the growth of Christ’s rule in you affect your life over time?

3. How does the Kingdom come into the world through you? With what effects?

Next steps—Transformation: How consistent are you in thinking about the Kingdom as growing and increasing in and through your life? What can you do to make this more consistently part of your daily walk with and work for the Lord?

T. M. Moore
What does it mean to know the Lord? How can we increase in knowing Him? Our book, To Know Him, addresses these and other questions about life in the Kingdom of God. Order your free copy by clicking here.
A companion book to this study of “The Kingdom Presence” is available at our bookstore. Listen to an excerpt from The Kingdom Turn, by clicking here. Then order your free copy.

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T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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