Mysteries of the Kingdom

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Jesus revealed the mysteries of the kingdom in parables

To many people, Matthew 13 is a mysterious chapter because it is full of parables commonly interpreted without a lot of confidence, certainty or convincing cross-references. The seven parables in this chapter illustrate spiritual realities and mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. God wants His people to clearly understand these realities. Matthew’s gospel does not deal primarily with salvation. The theme John’s gospel is salvation, but the theme of Matthew is the dynamics and mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. We must take care not to impose our own ideas or preconceived notions on any book chapter or reference of the Bible. These parables deal with the dynamics of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.

Aspects of the kingdom

We can observe that the kingdom of heaven involves three aspects: the appearance, the reality and the physical and geopolitical manifestation of the kingdom of heaven. This final aspect corresponds to the 1000 year reign of Christ called the Millennium in which Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, will reign over the entire world from the city of Jerusalem, and Christians who overcome will reign with Him.

These seven parables, like many groups of seven in the Bible, are separated into two sub groups. The first four address the appearance of the kingdom of heaven, they begin with the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like…” In these four parables, the intent is not to define explicitly every aspect of the mysteries of the kingdom, but to describe aspects of what appears to be the kingdom of heaven. The purpose of these parables is to warn against things that “appear” to be the kingdom of heaven but in reality, are not.

After Jesus told the parable of the sower recorded in Matthew chapter 13:3-8, His disciples asked Him why He spoke to the people in parables, He responded to their inquiry by giving them an explicit explanation of why He spoke through parables.

In verse 11, He explained that the reason he spoke in parables was because His disciples were privileged to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven but not everyone in the multitude had this privilege. Jesus used explicit terminology whenever He spoke to His disciples. He taught in parables because He only wanted to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven to His disciples. Scripture affirms that God’s will is that none perish, but that all repent. God’s will is that all men have the knowledge and revelation of His Word. However, because of the hardness of men’s hearts, he hasn’t given them the privilege of knowing the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”. In order to understand God’s will we must have an open and inquisitive heart and humbly receive it as fertile soil receives a seed. Jesus beautifully illustrated this principle in His first parable when He spoke of how each different type of soil receives seed.

The kingdom is something beyond salvation

We can be sure that Jesus did not want to prevent anyone from being saved and that the meaning of these parables was not hidden to prevent people from recognizing their need for salvation and coming to repentance. Such is clearly not God’s heart. It is easy to discern that the message concealed in these parables was not concerning salvation since there is no reference to the cross, to a savior, or was there any evangelistic appeal. Instead, the themes of these parables point to fruitfulness, true and false believers, things that appear to be the kingdom of heaven but are devoid of its true nature and different aspects of what happens in the kingdom of heaven. None of these parables made an evangelistic appeal and apparently Jesus spoke them to test the hearts of the hearers.

It is necessary to recognize that the term “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” is a highly distinct term that does not indicate a general knowledge of God or of His Word. Jesus did not tell His disciples that they had received the privilege of knowing the Word of God, or the will of God, or even about the kingdom of God. He made it clear, that the knowledge of the mysteries (from the Greek musterion: a hidden or secret thing or something not obvious to the understanding) were revealed only to them as His disciples after having been initiated to exclusive privileges, one of which, is the special knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.

The Greek word translated as “mystery” refers to several different mysteries of God, His Word and His work. It refers to the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, to the grafting of the church into Israel, to marriage as a metaphor of Christ and the Church, to Babylon, and the woman and the great beast that carried her, to mention just a few. Therefore, we can easily conclude that the “mysteries” mentioned in the New Testament do not all refer to the same thing. For this reason, in order to discern which mystery each text is referring to, we must consider its context.

The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven that Christ was referring to were hidden in the parables of the kingdom of heaven most of which are recorded in Matthew 13. The kingdom of heaven is a term used exclusively in Matthew’s account and refers to the Millennial Reign of Christ subsequent to the rapture and great tribulation and before Armageddon and the eternal state of Heaven. This is not common knowledge among most Christians and continues to remain almost a universal mystery.

After Jesus explained to His disciples that they were the only ones who had been given the privilege of knowing the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, He reiterated and expanded upon the subject for what amounted to several more paragraphs. In verse 12 He taught that in relation to this knowledge, whoever had it would receive more and with abundance. However, whoever did not have the knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven would lose the little that they did have. Even a small amount of knowledge concerning the kingdom that they managed to accumulate, would be taken from them.

In verse 13, Jesus taught that since the multitude that heard His words had not been granted this knowledge, He spoke in parables because even though they had eyes and ears, they had no spiritual sight or sense of hearing. Then He cited the prophet Isaiah who prophesied that since His people had such dull spiritual eyes, ears and hearts in relation to His message, the judgment pronounced over them would be that they would not understand and repent, and thus would lose the chance to receive His healing. Since they had no propensity to turn, they were also denied the chance to turn.

This is a very serious condition, and tragically common among God’s people. Note that Jesus related this to Isaiah’s prophecy to God’s people. God’s did not direct these words to another nation; He spoke them to Israel, His own people. In the same way, Jesus did not direct the words in these verses to lost people but to those who were “children of Abraham” God’s covenant people. Many Christians have ears but do not hear and eyes but do not see! Because of the dullness of their spiritual faculties, they lose any revelation that they might have previously had. This is a terrible indictment against God’s people!

Then Jesus reassured His disciples and affirmed that such was not the case with them. They would be blessed because they had both spiritual sight and hearing to receive the explanation that He gave them privately. Then before explaining the parable of the sower, He affirmed that many prophets and righteous men of old desired to see and hear the mysteries that they were witnessing but never had the chance, but they had the privilege of this opportunity, thus they were blessed. When we seek to understand these mysteries of the kingdom with the heart of a true disciple of God we will also be blessed with eyes that see and ears that hear.

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