If God is in control, why is the world in such a mess?
It is a reasonable question to ask. It seems incongruous that God who is not the author of confusion should be sovereign over a world that is so chaotic and overrun by evil people. How do we make sense of it all?
Purpose of this writing:
- To provide an overview of God’s Kingdom Plan
- To be an encouragement that even though Satan is active, God’s eternal purpose in the church cannot be thwarted.
- To show the value of holding both the old and the new covenants of God
- To show the promise to the local church that if it will teach these promises and the distinction of Israel, it will have an open door in the gospel.
God has not cancelled His promise of a literal earthly Kingdom for Israel. If you are not a Jew but raised to believe in God, the chances are that you went to a Christian church that taught you that the church has replaced Israel. It doesn’t matter if it was a Catholic or a Protestant church, there is a willful neglect of teaching about what God has revealed regarding His Kingdom Plan for Israel and the distinction between Israel and the church.
Matthew’s gospel is written particularly to show the Jews of the first century how God’s Kingdom Plan is unfolding. In it we can see that Jesus is the promised Messiah and He made a legitimate offer of the Kingdom to Israel which they rejected. However, God in His foreknowledge anticipated this. From that point of rejection, Jesus began to reveal the purpose of God during this present, interim age. He started His instruction with a series of eight parables recorded for us in chapter 13 of Matthew’s gospel.
In Hebrews 6:18 we read of two immutable things in which God could not lie. What are those two things that are referred to?
- There is an unconditional promise given by God to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3 of Land, Seed and Blessing.
- This covenant is confirmed by an oath in Genesis 15 where Abram was put into a deep sleep and God, who could swear by no greater, swore an oath to Himself to accomplish His promise.
Matthew’s gospel gives the best picture of the unveiling of God’s plan in this age from a Jewish perspective.
In the 5th chapter of Matthew’s gospel we find Jesus’ Sermon on the mount. In it He states the morality of the Coming Kingdom:
“For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed [the righteousness] of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20 KJV
The Jewish leaders, on the other hand, were determined that only the keeping of the law could bring the Messiah and His righteous Kingdom.
“Then answered them the Pharisees, Are ye also deceived? Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him (Jesus)? But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed.” John 7:47-49 KJV
They already had the morality of the law, they wanted their Messiah to bring them political freedom.
The Turning Point
The religious leaders of Israel were frustrated that this Jesus whom they believed to be a deceiver was doing miracles that couldn’t be denied. After they accused Jesus of being a Sabbath breaker (When He was actually the Sabbath maker), the people brought unto Jesus a man possessed by a devil, blind and dumb. Jesus immediately healed him, “insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw.” (Matthew 12:22)
The enraged rulers accused Jesus of casting out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. (Matthew 12:24). With this statement, Jesus pronounced that they had committed the unpardonable sin of attributing the works of the Spirit of God unto Satan…
“But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. … 31 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy [against] the [Holy] Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.” [Mat 12:28, 31 KJV]
From this point, since the Kingdom offer was rejected by the religious leaders, Jesus pronounced the postponement (not the cancellation) of the promise of the earthly Kingdom.
“Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” Matthew 21:43 KJV
The word translated ‘nation’ here is ‘ethnos’. We get our word ethnic from it and it is frequently translated in the Bible by the word ‘Gentiles’. From this men have taught that this means the Kingdom of God has been removed from Israel and now belongs to the Gentile church. However, the church is not a nation. It is a spiritual organism composed of both Jew and Gentile.
in the context it says that the Kingdom will be given to a nation bearing the fruit thereof. There is only one nation to whom God has promised the fruit of the Kingdom. That is the nation of Israel through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel). Therefore this cannot be referring to any gentile nation, nor to the church but it must be referring to a future generation of Israel that will receive the promise.
Just as the Israelites of old failed to lay hold of the promise of God to be with them in occupying the promised land, they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and their carcasses were wasted in the wilderness (Numbers 14:33). At the end of those years, there was a new generation prepared to go into the land of promise. So it is that the generation that failed to recognize their Messiah lost their nation and their lives to the Romans in 70 a.d. The Kingdom promise will not be realized until a future generation of Israel is prepared to receive their Messiah.
The Interim Age
The Apostle Paul speaks of this postponement in Romans chapter 11 and reminds the predominantly Gentile church of the blessing to the world that Israel’s rejection has brought.
“For if the casting away of them [be] the reconciling of the world, what [shall] the receiving [of them be], but life from the dead?” [Rom 11:15 KJV]
It is now the disciples of Jesus, whom He calls the meek of the earth, that will receive the answers that the prophets longed to see, but they were unable (Matthew 13:17). The wise and noble rejected what was to be revealed unto spiritual babes. In eight parables, the Lord Jesus will lay before the befuddled disciples the mysteries of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:11)
In the Bible, a mystery is something that was previously hidden and now revealed. So, this Interim Age is not God’s ‘Plan B’ because although the offer of the Kingdom was genuine, in God’s foreknowledge He anticipated the rejection of Israel.
The Apostle Paul later explains that this is God’s eternal purpose (Ephesians 3:11) through which He would reconcile the world to Himself and give the believer the righteousness of Christ. This alien righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the Pharisees.(Philippians 3:6-9)
Matthew shows in his gospel that this would happen through the church that Christ would begin building it (Matthew 16:18). The Apostle John shows how this would happen after Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and ascension back into Glory. (John 16:7-13)
At this point the disciples had not grasped what had just happened to their beloved nation. So Jesus begins to teach in parables in order to reveal to them what He would hide from the wise and prudent of Israel. He does this perhaps as a mercy to the nation of Israel so that their sin of rejection would not be compounded and thus their judgment intensified, but also to fulfill scripture (Matthew 13:14).
“I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old” (Psalm 78:2 KJV)
We notice that the parables are given both outside the house (Matthew 13:1) and inside the house (Matthew 13:36).
The four parables given outside the house are these: The Sower, The Wheat and Tares, the Mustard Seed and the Leaven.
The four parables given inside the house are these: The Hidden Treasure, the Pearl of Great Price, The Dragnet and the Householder.
We are not specifically told why Jesus does this, however we can speculate that Jesus’ description of the kingdom of heaven here that would be marked by demonic activity and subterfuge…coupled with the disciples realization that the kingdom would not immediately come must have left them very discouraged indeed.
So, Jesus takes His disciples into the house to encourage them with four parables describing the work of God even in the presence of Satanic activity. These Jewish disciples knew that it was promised to Abraham and His descendants that the Kingdom of God on earth would serve as a beacon to the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6).
What God anticipated, that these disciples could not, was that since the generation that He came to did not receive Him (John 1:11), God would use these disciples as the remnant in Israel (Ezekiel 14:22; Romans 9:27; Romans 11:8) to bring the light of the glory of God to the Gentiles. (Acts 13:47). This would be fully manifest in the Coming Kingdom according to the prophet Isaiah.
“And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” Isaiah 60:3 KJV
In Matthew 24, the Lord reveals to His disciples what must take place before the Kingdom of God appears. The Kingdom of Heaven as described is a prospective Kingdom. It describes those who are being saved in this interim age as the children or the heirs of the Kingdom. Heirs are those who have been promised something, (In this case the earthly Kingdom) but have not yet received it.
“The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with [him], that we may be also glorified together.” Romans 8:16-17 KJV
Those who are heirs include the church but also includes those who will be saved during the tribulation period. (Revelation 20:4) These are not a part of the church since the church will be removed prior to the tribulation period. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, 1 Corinthians 15:51-57)
So it is in Matthew 13 that He describes the work of God in calling out the children of the Kingdom until that time. From this we can also be encouraged that the Lord is presently working through those who are heirs of the Kingdom, in spite of the fact that it appears that Satan has the upper hand in our world.
Characteristics of the Parables
The parables serve as poetic illustrations of spiritual realities. The first parable given describes a sower of seed that went out to sow onto different types of ground. In the process of telling this parable, Jesus also gives His disciples an explanation of what each of these pictures mean. These descriptions allow us to grasp the various characteristics of the interim age.
This pictures for us the progress of the gospel of the kingdom. In this we see the sobering reality that of all of those who are called to become heirs of the kingdom, only 1 in 4 will become disciples of the King. This is not necessarily to say that only 1 and 4 are saved, but that only 1 in 4 who hear the word of God will bear lasting fruit.
The Wheat and the Tares
During this interim age, the activity of Satan is such that it will be very difficult to distinguish between believers and unbelievers. Although we are told that we can know true believers by their fruits, (Matthew 7:16,20) sometimes unbelievers can bear fruit that looks the same as believers but lack the essential qualities of love, joy and peace, etc. that mark the true believer (Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 5:9). In the end, it is God alone that knows them that are His (2 Timothy 2:19) and at the end of this age it will be the angels that are sent to sort out the harvest.
The Mustard Seed
This describes the unnatural appearance of the kingdom of heaven. What by nature is a small herb has turned into something grotesquely large in appearance and marked by the unclean fowls of the air that lodge in its branches. As we trace the course of this age we see Christendom that is ecumenical in nature and has become grotesquely inclusive of every pagan idea of salvation rather than exclusively true to its origin of faith alone in Christ alone.
The work of the enemy has always focused on corrupting the minds of men toward the Word of God. The very first question that Satan asked of men was, “Has God said…?” (Genesis 3:1) From that day until now, the devil has been a corrupting influence among the children of God. If the devil cannot outright keep the Word of God from the minds of men, he will try to confuse men as to what God has really said.
So it is that leaven here pictures that pervasive evil influence of Satan in sowing seeds of doubt where God has sown seeds of faith and Sowing lies where God has sown the truth.
God’s Overcoming Activity
In contrast to the first four parables, we now learn about the work of God in calling out heirs for His Kingdom from the midst of Satan’s kingdom of evil. This shows the sovereignty of God even though this world is presently in the hands of the evil one.
“[And] we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.” (1 John 5:19 KJV)
The Hidden Treasure
Although the God’s promised Kingdom on earth is postponed it is not cancelled. God considers Israel to be His special treasure among the nations of the earth. (Exodus 19:5) Since they have at present rejected Him, they remain hidden in the earth while God calls out from the nations a people for His name.
However, when The Lord returns and Israel recognizes the one whom they have pierced as their Messiah, (Zechariah 12:10) the nation will be converted. This will cause God to uncover them and restore them back to the land in faith. Israel will be revealed as God’s land (2 Chronicles 7:19,20)- the place on earth where He has chosen to place His name (Nehemiah 1:9) and where His glory will be revealed throughout the earth. (Malachi 1:11)
The Pearl of Great Price
In contrast to a hidden treasure, here we see that God is looking for precious pearls and when He finds one unique bauble, He gives everything He has in order to own it. We find this parable realized in the church
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;” (Ephesians 5:25 KJV)
The idea of seeking here is that of striving. It carries with it the implication that once it is acquired, it is not going to be hidden but put on display. We would expect that it would also have a story about how the merchant found it and what extreme measures were employed to purchase it. This would bring glory to the merchant and give value to his or her net worth.
In this same sense, the church exists to give glory to Christ on account of the value given to it by extremity of His own (the merchant’s) effort. We can never over-estimate the delight that Christ has from the worship that He receives from the souls that He has purchased with His own precious blood. This also highlights the impossibility of Him giving up those that He has redeemed with His own life.
Like the parable of the Wheat and the Tares, we see that there is a mix of both good and bad in the Kingdom of heaven. Those who are caught in the net are all of those who profess to believe in God. Added to this illustration is the idea of resistance that requires a huge effort to draw them into the ship.
So we find that even though there are a lot of souls who, like the fish in the net, go to church, read the Bible and have an interest in spiritual things, there is a lot of resistance in the minds and hearts of many as to the truth of salvation by faith alone. It requires a lot of prayer and continuance in sound teaching to see them truly saved.
Additionally there is much resistance concerning the reality of the coming Kingdom. Many want to claim that the promise given to Abraham has been cancelled due to Israel’s rejection of their Messiah. However such teaching calls into question the very character of God. It calls God a liar that He will not do what He both promised and confirmed with an oath.
If God has broken His promise to Israel, then His promise to us to not leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) is also in doubt. This goes to the heart of the gospel offer of assurance based on the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice.
Finally, the Lord uses the parable of the householder to illustrate for the disciples the importance of valuing all of the promises of God, and distinguishing the difference between old and new. This goes to the practice of cherry picking the passages of Scripture that we teach according to how it agrees with our creeds and current philosophies.
We cannot dismiss the promises and revelation of the Old Testament and hold only to the New Testament, nor can we apply the Old Testament law given to Israel and ignore God’s righteousness given in grace under the New Testament without doing harm to the household of God.
The Distinction Between Israel and Church
There is a promise given to a local church that did not deny the promise of the Kingdom to Come. We see this in Revelation chapter 3:7-13 where the church in Philadelphia was commended for holding God’s Word and not denying His name. The Lord reveals Himself as the one who is holy, one that is true and the one who has the Key of David with the authority to open and close doors that no man can reverse.
If we deny the reality of Christ’s return to set up His Kingdom for one thousand years as distinct from the present church age, we not only harm the church’s testimony in the world, but we also practically deny Christ’s Deity and His Word of Truth. Those who recognize that Jesus is Jehovah and that He cannot lie, acknowledge that His promises are yea and amen. It is this that provides the foundation necessary to see a true work of God open to them.
In this post, we have examined the following:
- An overview of God’s Kingdom Plan;
- That we can be encouraged that even though Satan is active, God’s eternal purpose in the church cannot be thwarted;
- The value of holding both the old and the new covenants of God;
- The local church that teaches these promises and the distinction of Israel have the promise of an open door to a work of God in the gospel.
As we can see from this study, nothing that we see happening in this world is beyond the foreknowledge and the wisdom of God. The apostle Paul, after explaining the distinction between the church and Israel in his letter to the Romans burst into praise in contemplation of God’s wisdom when he wrote:
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable [are] his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, [are] all things: to whom [be] glory for ever. Amen.”
Romans 11:33-36 KJV
God really is in control…and all the people of the Lord said…. Amen!!