Jesus: The Progress of the Kingdom (Kingdom Visionaries 3, Part 4)

“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 has grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” Matthew 13.31, 32

Inevitable growth

The parables and teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ concerning the Kingdom of God reveal just how important this new reality was to His mission. As we have seen, the Kingdom of God held the primacy in Jesus message. It was the defining motif and the overarching objective in all His work and teaching.

Jesus, moreover, insisted on the proximity of the Kingdom, that it had come and was being “brought near” by Him and His mission, and would come in an even fuller and more significant way within the lifetimes of those who heard Him.

Given the primacy and priority 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 of all who followed Jesus in seeking, proclaiming, and serving in the Kingdom of God.

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, by the means and according to the characteristics He exemplified and taught throughout His earthly ministry.

This is completely in line with what we have seen hinted at and 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 had brought near, by His saving work and Gospel proclamation, 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 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, as, for example, the parable of the mustard seed.

The Kingdom is “sown” into the earth – symbolic of the preaching of the Word – and, wherever it finds welcoming soil, it takes root and begins to grow. As it grows it becomes visible, prominent, fruit-bearing, and beneficial to all who participate in its fruit.

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 actually among 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.

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 actually intended them to do so, and expected them to strive 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 marked out specific 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 was one of progress and development.

Next steps

How does your church equip its members to seek the increase of the Kingdom of God? Talk with a pastor about this question.

Additional Resources

Download this week’s study, Kingdom Visionaries 3: Jesus and the Apostles.

Sign up for ViewPoint Leaders Training and start your own ViewPoint discussion group.

For a concise explanation of the Kingdom of God, and help in learning how to proclaim it, order a copy of T. M.s little book, The Gospel of the Kingdom from our online store, by clicking here.

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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 Essex Junction, VT.