The Kingdom of Heaven

has a starting point.

Matthew 13:31–33 (NKJV)

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.

These parables describe one aspect of the Kingdom—its spread. The first one is designed to amaze the listeners. A mustard seed grows from tiny to huge, so it can serve functions that only large trees can serve. There’s a deep and important point here that’s easy to miss—the kingdom of heaven starts out small.

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” — Matthew 3:1–2 (NKJV)

The kingdom has a starting point in time. It did not exist from the beginning of creation. Jesus inaugurated the kingdom. From that starting point it grew from tiny beginnings to be great.

Conversely, the parable about the leaven is about how small everything outside the kingdom will get. All of the meal got leavened; none remained unleavened. The kingdom of heaven takes over everything.

It’s glorious that our modern understanding of the action of leavening is a better analogy for the spread of the kingdom than what Jesus’s first century hearers would have understood. We know from biology that the leavening grows and reproduces inside the meal; it doesn’t just disperse and get diluted.

So it is with the kingdom of heaven. It doesn’t just spread; it grows.

Do not make the mistake of equating the kingdom of heaven with the church. Yes, Jesus also inaugurated His church, and it also started out small.

“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” — Matthew 16:18 (NKJV)

The kingdom and the church are related, but they’re not the same thing. Specifically, not everyone will be saved. The church grows but, unlike the kingdom, things outside the church remain.

The church is the agent of the kingdom, the broker, the channel. The kingdom is larger and more abstract.

 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. — Philippians 2:9–11 (NKJV)

That covers a lot.

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Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.