Since our last paper appeared, further enquiries have come to hand about the distinctions we pointed out. A few days ago we came across the following extract which may help to make the subject a little clearer.
“Matthews only uses the expression “Kingdom of heaven!” It is often, in a general sense, capable of being interchanged with the “kingdom of God” as we see by comparing Luke. Notwithstanding, the two phrases cannot always replace each other, and Matthew uses the “kingdom of God” in a few passages where the “kingdom of heaven” could not be used. (Mt. 6:33; 12:28; 21:31, 43). Thus the “kingdom of God” was there when Christ the king was there; the “kingdom of heaven” began with Christ going to heaven. By and by, when Satan ceases to rule, it will be the “kingdom of heaven” (and of God too, of course), not in mystery, but in manifestation. The “kingdom of God” has also a moral force which the “kingdom of heaven” has not; and in this way it is frequently used by Paul, and was peculiarly suitable to the Spirit’s design in Luke.” (JND)
Following the outline of the kingdom in its widest form, we come now to regard it in a more restricted way dispensationally as presented to us in the seven parables in Mt. 13. Here we have an outline of the whole Christian profession which began on the day of Pentecost and will continue until the end of this age. Beginning with only good seed, it has become a mixture of good and bad, but resolving all this will take place when the saints are taken to heaven and the rest left for judgment in this world. As this character only came into existence after Christ was in heaven, the kingdom is looked at as a mystery, for we have a kingdom without a visible king. It is an aspect that only those who have eyes to see can understand, hence our Lord spoke to them of the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (v. 11).
We must note that the first parable was not called a similitude of the kingdom, though there can be little doubt it prepared for it. The Sower rather covered the later part of the ministry of our Lord and only came in after His rejection by Israel. He accepts His rejection in chapter 11 and formally rejects the nation in chapter 12, then He begins a new work as the Sower - not this time with Israel in view but with the Assembly in view, for this is bound up with these parables. Moreover, we have no mention of a “field” in the parable, which our Lord says in this chapter “is the world.” Again, the reason is His work did not go beyond the confines of Palestine. The kingdom as outlined in the other six parables did not begin until Christ was in glory. This is clearly seen in the next parable where the field is in the hands of men. No doubt the sowing by our Lord produced the company who received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and it was to them the care of the field was committed, and it has been in the care of men ever since. In support of this we note that “the field” (v. 38) becomes “his field” (v. 24) and “thy field” (v. 27). When did the field become His field? When He sold all that He had and bought it; a reference to the death of our Lord. So the second parable speaks of “his field” and clearly indicates that the kingdom as outlined in these other six parables had its beginning after the cross in the coming of the Holy Spirit into this world. The Lord as the Sower in the first parable prepared for this, but only as the Sower in the second parable did He bring it into being in this world.
In the first similitude of the kingdom, beginning in verse 24, we see the introduction of the kingdom into this world by our Lord - the Sower - but through the apostolic company called men here. It was while they slept - not the Sower - that the enemy sowed tares among the wheat. Here is the secret of all the evil that is found in the bosom of Christendom today. Both wheat and tares growing together as far as the field is concerned, and this state will abide until the end of the age. At the end of this age the angels will come forth and bind the tares together to burn them, and the Lord will gather His own to Himself. We believe the order is: first the tares bundled, then the wheat gathered into the barn, and lastly the tares burned after the wheat has been taken away. This is all in preparation for the righteous to shine forth “as the sun,” thus pointing to heaven as the place from which they will shine (v. 43).
“At the close, He will bind all the enemy’s work in bundles; that is, He will prepare them in this world for judgment. He will then take away the church.” (J.N.D. Synopsis, vol. 3, page 93.)
While speaking of the assembly being bound up with these parables, we do not fail to distinguish between the kingdom and the Assembly. The fact is, the kingdom has been introduced into the world in the power of the Holy Spirit with a view to securing the Assembly. There could be no thought of good and bad in the Assembly, but this will come out more clearly as we follow our Lord’s teaching in the other parables.
Next we have the parable of the mustard tree, v. 31. This shows to us the kingdom of heaven becoming a great world power, though of quite a small beginning. No doubt affiliation with the political powers has brought this about. So worldly has the professing Church become that the Devil and his angels are firmly established therein. The word of the Lord to Pergamos clearly states this: they were dwelling where Satan’s throne is (Rev. 2:13). For the full result of this, we have to turn to Rev. 18:2, “the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.” Such the sphere of the kingdom is rapidly becoming.
Then in the next parable of the woman hiding the leaven in the three measures of meal, we are given to see that along with external greatness there is internal corruption. No doubt the two go together. Comparing this with Zech. 5:5-11, where the “ephah” is the same measure as three measures (three seahs), idolatry is clearly intimated, and we believe will be seen in its full-blown character when apostate Christendom bows down to the image of the beast. The simile of the “woman” refers to the Babylonish character of things, and, running these similitudes together, it is the scarlet beast being ridden by the woman clothed in purple and scarlet. Such will be the end result of the tares being left after the wheat is safely in heaven. It is of interest to note that all these parables were given by our Lord publicly, outside of the house, and refer to the character of the kingdom as seen publicly in this world. He has much more of this instruction to pass on to them, but the rest He speaks to them inside the house; for if all this serious corrupt condition needed to be pointed out, there is yet much of a very blessed character to pass on, but only to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Explanations are given inside the house. We may be deeply thankful that we are permitted to hear our Lord explaining what He had said to the multitude, and adding for their ears alone another three parables, where all that is vital and precious to His heart is opened out to them. In this connection it is well to remind ourselves that our Lord is not only the “field” owner; he is also “the householder” (v. 27). It is not quite by surveying the “field” that we are taught about the mysteries of the kingdom, but rather by coming to the householder for an explanation. The result is that we ourselves will become householders (v. 52) and thus able to teach others also. But the rest we must leave for another time.
The first thing to note about the last three parables given in this chapter is they were uttered in the house; we can expect something now that is not so manifest in the world and can be understood only by those who have eyes to see and hearts to understand (v. 51). The first three (already considered briefly) show the pretentious character of the kingdom in this world as seen by all; these things being the direct outcome of the tares sown among the wheat. Now however, we are going to hear from the lips of our Lord that, in spite of all this false manifestation, there is that in the kingdom which is valuable to Him - no doubt the outcome of the wheat. Some have thought that Israel, the church, and the nations are prefigured here, but had they considered that it is the “mysteries” of the kingdom in “this age” (v. 49) they would not have fallen into this mistake. Moreover, the treasure coming before the pearl would forbid this, for surely the “Assembly” will take precedence over Israel in the kingdom in the world to come. But it is not the kingdom in the world to come, but the kingdom of today which was set up when the Holy Spirit came down from heaven; in which neither Israel nor the nations as such have any part. This chapter teaches as clearly as words can teach that all that is spurious in this kingdom will be burned up, and all that is good will be in heaven (vv. 30, 43), a place where neither Israel nor the nations will be.
In the parable of the treasure hid in the field, quite a few things need consideration. First, it was hidden, then found, then hidden again; and only known to be there by the One Who bought the field. No stretch of the imagination could make this Israel on the earth, known to all the nations as the people of God. Have we any light about this hidden treasure? We certainly have, not in Ex. 19:5, but in this very chapter (v. 35). It was the secret of the Godhead which Christ had come to effect; a secret which had not been made known in this world before. Our own judgment is that this parable does go further than the Assembly and includes all the Old Testament saints who will compose the heavenly company of Heb. 12:22; called four and twenty elders in Rev. 4:4. Every instructed believer knows that the saints who have died in a former dispensation will be raised when the Lord comes for His Own, and we have long considered that the treasure will include them as forming the whole family who take up priesthood in heaven. We believe they will all “shine forth as the sun” (v. 43).
But the next parable, so well known to us, brings out the Assembly in her own distinctiveness as the “one pearl of great price” (v. 46). Should any doubt arise as to this, one passage in Rev. 21:21 - where every gate is of “one pearl” - would show her value and preciousness to the One who bought it. We have long understood that the twenty four elders are composed of all the heavenly company, and this we suggest is the answer to the treasure; but when we come to the “marriage of the Lamb” (ch.19:7), the Assembly is there seen in her own distinctiveness and the rest of the heavenly company called to have fellowship in the event. After this ceremony the twenty-four elders are never seen again. This, to our mind, is why we have these two parables: the treasure, all the heavenly company; the pearl, the Assembly which Christ loved and gave Himself for. It is worth considering that he found the treasure and bought the field to obtain it. By contrast, He was “seeking” goodly pearls and bought one, rather than the field; nor was He seeking treasure as He sought the pearl, facts we judge bear out what we have suggested as to their meaning.
Lastly we have the parable of the net, which clearly shews the means used to bring the kingdom into being. Again we are back to men, for it was through men the Lord sent out the gospel which has gathered the whole company called Christendom today, good and bad. We might notice that in the former parable of the tares and the wheat we have “men” brought in. So we have in the “net,” but with the “treasure” and the “pearl” no men are mentioned as taking part in this matter; this was all of Himself, and we may thank God that all He does Himself, is GOOD, and will abide for His eternal pleasure and our eternal blessing.
One other matter is worthy of note. It is the work of angels to deal with the bad (v. 49) and the work of men to deal with the good. Do not let us be found doing the work allotted to angels and waste our time trying to turn bad into good. Rather let us be active to secure and help that which is clearly good, and thus be found “fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God” (Col. 4:11). If then we have learned rightly from our Lord the bearing of these parables - and it is only in the house we can learn rightly - we shall be householders capable of bringing out of our treasures, “things new and old.” Not things new and future, but things new and old; those things of the kingdom of heaven in its mystery form (as we are in it today), yet securing all the saints who will be in heaven at the coming of our Lord. Need we add that His coming will bring this age to a close so far as we are concerned? After that, all connected with this age will be burned in the fire, ere we shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of our Father (v. 43).
In bringing to a close these papers on the kingdom, we come now to the third and most restricted aspect of it. We have already considered it in its widest aspect as taught in the prophecy of Daniel. Second, in its dispensational aspect as taught in the Gospel by Matthew. In this paper we have before us the vital and spiritual aspect of it as taught in the Gospel by John. In Jn. 3, it is very clearly stated in our Lord’s discourse to Nicodemus. We have noted in Daniel that, up to a point, men are allowed to act in willfulness, even though God is the ruler of the universe. Then, in Mt. 13 we have noted that tares are allowed to grow alongside of the wheat; children of the wicked are allowed to live within the bounds of the kingdom in testimony. In the kingdom as we now have it in Jn. 3, only living, spiritual believers who are born of God can ever enter into it. In the other three Gospels the kingdom as a sphere of profession is presented, and this may be true or false; but here in Jn. 3 only those born of God ever enter it, and children of the wicked one can never find entrance into it.
It is composed only of those who are born of God and who believe in the Son, receiving as a result Salvation and Eternal Life (v. 16).
Born of God has been mentioned in this Gospel before, in chapter 1:12-13. We read that two things marked those who received the Son: they “believed on His Name” (v. 12) and they were “born…of God” (v. 13). The verb used here “were born” is in the past tense, teaching us that they believed on His Name because they “were born” of God. The same order is found in chapter 3, where we are told that anyone who enters the kingdom is first born again (vv. 3-5), then they believe on the Son (v. 16). It is in this way living, spiritual believers are formed and brought into the kingdom.
There are four statements in this verse (v. 13); one is positive and three are negative. The one positive statement is: “which were born…of God.” The three negative are: “not of blood,” “nor of the will of the flesh,” and “nor of the will of man.” These three things are the component parts of our human birth into this world. “Blood” would refer to the nature of that birth, “flesh” to the agent, and “man” as the source. This is what our Lord refers to in chapter 3: “that which is born of flesh is flesh.” We learn that new birth is not the product of nature, nor brought about by the flesh, nor does it spring from man, but is altogether of God (“which were born…of God”). More details are given in chapter 3 as to the agents God does use to bring this about. In chapter 1, stress is laid upon what the new birth is not, while in chapter 3, stress is laid upon what it is and how it is brought about by God.
When Nicodemus came to our Lord seeking light, he was told at once that before anyone could see the kingdom of God he must be born again - anew, or from the outset. New birth was not needed to see a Man performing miracles; but to see the kingdom of God introduced in this spiritual way by Jesus, a completely new work was needed in the soul. Moreover, when he sought further light as to how these things could be, he was assured that this work could only be brought about by the word of God and by Spirit. These are agents which God uses to do a work, which not only opens the eyes of men, but begets within them a new moral and spiritual nature which fits them for entrance into the kingdom. Other servants are used to substantiate these things. James tells us in his epistle, “Of His Own will begat He us with the word of truth” (1:18). Peter also tells us, “Being born again…by the word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23). James has mostly in mind the source; Peter rather emphasizes the agents; and John adds a further point, what it is in its nature - spirit.
The result of this work is shown in its completion in Jn. 3:16. Those who are born anew by the word and the Spirit believe on the Son, and thus enter the kingdom where they obtain Salvation and Eternal Life through the Son. It may be verse 3 presents the beginning of this work and verse 5 its continuation, for we can hardly think that one who is born anew and sees the kingdom does not enter it. However, it is certain that only as one is born again by the word and the Spirit can one enter; no other person will find a place in this kingdom who is not thus wrought upon by God. This is the true kingdom and all in it are of God: John does not present the kingdom dispensationally as a sphere of profession, be it true or false. As we have said, this is the kingdom in its vital and spiritual form; and only those born of God and having believed the gospel are sealed by the Spirit and have part therein. It is not the sphere of the kingdom but the kingdom itself which is in view in this chapter.
This is the aspect of the kingdom referred to in Rom. 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” It is into this kingdom God has brought us by begetting us anew and giving us of His Spirit. If in the meanwhile we are linked outwardly with much that is spurious in the sphere of the kingdom of heaven, the fact remains that we are the true children of the kingdom, living and moving in the power of the Spirit of God. It is our privilege to walk subject to His will, manifesting clearly that we are such, being marked by righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.