For my final post of this old year, I’ll be finishing my series on the kingdom of heaven – though, of course, infinitely more could be said. I’d started this study for myself to gain a better understanding of this oft-used and oft-confusing idea of the kingdom of heaven/kingdom of God. I think I’ve learned something but the best way to test potential acquisition of knowledge is to apply it. So let me try to bring what we’ve been discussing and hopefully learning to bear on some common (and commonly misunderstood) Scriptures. Continue reading The kingdom of heaven means…
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:31-34). It is clear that the kingdom of heaven, the place where God lives and God reigns, is not yet. It has been being prepared – rising, growing and waiting – since the beginning, since God spoke light and light was. Continue reading The Kingdom of heaven is…now and not yet
It’s hard to see, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the kingdom of heaven is hard to enter. Of course, this isn’t exactly a comforting thing to hear. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'” (Matthew 7:21-23). As if that’s not harsh enough, Jesus also says, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Continue reading The kingdom of heaven is…difficult to enter
So the kingdom of heaven is sometimes a merchant, sometimes the treasure; sometimes a tiny seed, sometimes the sower and sometimes the landowner. Matthew 20:1-16 is the “first shall be last” parable, for in it, the landowner who hires people at different points throughout the day then pays them all the same. When the earliest hires complained that they should have gotten paid more than those who worked only an hour, the landowner reminds them that they’d agreed on an amount earlier in the day already and that he should be allowed to do whatever he wants with what belongs to him. He also doesn’t fail to point out the possibility that these complainers might be jealous because he is generous. Frustrating but fair enough, I guess. But then the landowner goes and adds this line: “So the first shall be last and the last shall be first” (Matthew 20:16). Continue reading The kingdom of heaven is like…a landowner
We return to wedding imagery in this parable, where ten virgins go to meet the bridegroom, five wisely with oil for their lamps and five, foolishly without. When the five virgins without oil realized they didn’t have enough to keep their lamps burning during the wait for the bridegroom, they asked to borrow some from the other five. But the other five said there wouldn’t be enough and that they’d need to get go buy some for themselves. While the first five were away at the store, the bridegroom came, took the five waiting for him to the marriage feast and shut the door, saying that he “did not know” the five returning from the store when they came and knocked, leaving them out in the dark.
This time, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepares a feast and invites people via his slaves. They brush off the invitation so the king sent different slaves, but the invitees either had better things to do and/or killed the king’s slaves even after being told that an enormous feast had been prepared for them. The king was outraged and sent his troops to destroy the murderers and their city; afterwards, he sent his slaves to the streets to invite anyone to the wedding banquet he had prepared. The slaves gathered all they could find – good and bad – and invited them to the great feast but when the king saw a man without a wedding robe on, he ordered him thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:1-14). Continue reading The kingdom of heaven is like…a king, part 2
Matthew 13 isn’t the only place where parables about the kingdom of heaven can be found. Jesus tells another one in Matthew 18:23-35 about a king, a forgiven servant and an unforgiven servant. You’ve probably heard this one: the king orders a slave to pay back a huge debt, the slave says he can’t pay so the king is about to have him, his wife and everything they owned sold off but the slave begs for more time and king forgives his debt. This same slave immediately turns around and seeks out one of his own debtors and demands repayment but when this second slave begs his patience, the first slave has him imprisoned. The other slaves see this and report it to the king who orders the unforgiving servant to be tortured until he can pay back his much larger debt. “So will it be with you before my Father in heaven,” Jesus says. We are called to forgive our brothers and sisters from our hearts (Matthew 18:35).
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:47-50). We come to last parable in Matthew 13, beginning again with this word again. Perhaps Jesus is trying to tell us that He’s saying the same thing in different ways: kingdom of heaven is like a seed, like a seed planter, like yeast, like a merchant, and now…like a net. Similar to the wheat growing up with weeds, the kingdom of heaven as a net brings in a full catch; the good will be separated from the bad but not until the end.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46). The word Jesus begins this parable with – again – points back to the previous parable about the buried treasure. There, the kingdom of heaven is the buried treasure, which might be why the current parable, where the kingdom of heaven is the merchant, frequently gets interpreted as saying that the kingdom of heaven is the pearl of great price. There is a common theme running through all the parables thus far: the kingdom of heaven starts out woefully small but it is worth everything.
Without so much as taking a breath after His explanation of the parable of the weeds, Jesus launches rapid-fire-style into three more parables. The three parables in Matthew 13:44-50 are literally part of the same quotation as the explanation of the parable of the weeds – perhaps they should be read as part of this explanation as well as for what they can illuminate about the kingdom of heaven on their own. The phrase “that someone took and…” should be familiar to us by now: the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and planted; the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and worked into dough; now, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field that someone found and hid” (Matthew 13:51). The kingdom of God requires engagement on behalf of those who seek and want it. Continue reading The kingdom of heaven is like…buried treasure