Such increase does not come easily, however. Jesus taught His followers that they should expect to be opposed, even to the point of persecution, by advocates of the prevailing worldviews (cf. Jn. 15.18-25). These words do not appear to have been intended only for His immediate circle of disciples, any more than was His prayer in John 17 (cf. v. 20). The first Christians were persecuted in conjunction with the growth and spread of the Christian faith, as it challenged the religious, political, social, and cultural worldviews of the day. If the Gospel had not spread, and if it had not promoted a way of life which challenged the existing worldviews, the Christians would have been left to their religion, just like all the other cults and sects of the day.
But it was the expansive nature of the Gospel, coupled with the radical claims of the Kingdom and the dramatic evidence of the power of the Spirit, that provoked advocates of the settled worldviews to persecute the Church, as they have done in every age. Men will not sit quietly by while their familiar way of life is being turned upside-down (Acts 17.1-9), unless, of course, they have been subdued by a love which they cannot ignore and transformed by a power they cannot resist.
Jesus knew His followers would be persecuted in every age because He foresaw the continuing enlargement and advance of His Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven, as a powerful presence challenging and overthrowing every pretense of men (cf. Dan. 2.44, 45).
The parable of the wheat and the tares
The parable of the wheat and the tares is perhaps the most paradigmatic of Jesus’ parables concerning the Kingdom of God (Matt. 13.24-30, 36-43). In this parable Jesus envisioned the impact of the Kingdom through all of time, from the first sowing of the Gospel to the final harvest of the saints. He spoke in terms of the whole world, and envisioned it as a field throughout which the Gospel is sown and the Kingdom brings forth fruit over all the earth. He understood there would be opposition – symbolized by the tares – but, in the end, when the angels return to harvest the field, the world will be, as Jesus saw it, a wheat field, ready to be harvested, and not a weed field, waiting to be burned.
Jesus brought a new era, a new realm and power, into the affairs of men and nation. And He was persuaded that nothing, not even the gates of hell, would be able to prevent the progress and growth of this new Kingdom which His coming heralded and brought near (Matt. 16.18).
Two implications attend to this aspect of Jesus vision. We may state these succinctly.
First, Jesus did not envision His Kingdom coming in its full and complete form prior to His own return in glory. While the Kingdom will make progress, as His followers evangelize the world, increase in Him, and build the Church, the full realization of that promised realm awaits the consummation of history, the day of judgment, and the new heavens and new earth.
So we must not be overly confident concerning how much real progress we may expect to achieve in this life.
At the same time, the followers of Christ must always strive to live up to His vision of progress along the various fronts we have considered, even in the face of stiff resistance. We must continue to call people to repentance and faith, to urge them to press their way into the Kingdom, and promote growth in the righteousness and love of the Kingdom, regardless of how our adversaries may seek to discourage, disparage, and destroy us.
Second, the progress of the Kingdom reinforces the priority of the Kingdom and makes seeking the Kingdom and its righteousness all that much more important as the commanding perspective of the life of faith (Matt. 6.33). When we understand, as Jesus taught, that Kingdom increase is inevitable and irresistible, we will devote ourselves all the more earnestly to seeking that increase in every area and aspect of our lives.
Jesus did not come to bring a faith with merely personal and subjective applications. He came to bring near a Kingdom, a Kingdom that is filling and transforming the nations of the world, and He calls us to seek that Kingdom, as a mighty struggle, in the full expectation that progress can be achieved, even if complete victory must wait.
How do you expect your life in the week to come to work for the progress of the Kingdom in the ways we have been discussing? What are your plans? What are you praying for Christ to do in your and through you? Unless we seek the Kingdom in concrete terms, in the everyday situations of our lives, we will not be seeking it at all. Share your thoughts with a Christian friend.
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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.