The Essential Jesus: His Life & Teaching

The Mystery of the Kingdom

Matthew 13:3-46

Teaching t10175


Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God (not a location or time in history--but the sphere of God’s reign, wherever people recognize his authority & experience the blessings of living under his reign). Matthew records three teachings on this subject--the righteousness of the kingdom (Matt. 5-7), the coming of the kingdom at the end of the age (Matt. 24,25), and tonight’s subject--the mystery of the kingdom (Matt. 13).

Jesus tells a series of parables (recorded in Matt. 13; Mk. 4; Lk. 8) whose common theme is “the mystery of the kingdom” (read Mark 4:11). “Mystery” does not mean something obscure and complicated, but something hidden until now (read Matt. 13:34,35). The “mystery of the kingdom” therefore refers to a portion of God’s kingdom that was not revealed to the Old Testament prophets. So in order to understand and profit from these parables, we must first understand what the Old Testament prophets taught about the coming of the kingdom of God.

Unlike other ancient religions, they taught that the human situation was not normal. Rather, because of humanity’s rebellion against God we live in an “evil age” characterized by death and brokenness. But God has not abandoned humanity--he has worked through the nation of Israel to provide humanity with a revelation of his true nature, and he will bring from Israel his Messiah. And when Messiah comes, he will completely overthrow this evil age and establish a new order in which the whole world experiences the blessing of God’s loving reign.

So history is not meaningless (atheism), nor is it cyclical (pantheism), nor is it leading to a classless workers’ utopia (Marxism) or a technological utopia (Star Trek) or dystopia (Matrix). History is leading to the rule of God’s Messiah!

Jesus affirmed all of this--but he revealed that the coming of Messiah’s kingdom would have an unanticipated portion. Before Messiah’s decisive coming (which we now call the “Second Coming,” Messiah would come not as a King--but as an “Anonymous Servant,” not to rule--but to serve by laying down his life as a payment for human sin. And this coming would inaugurate an invasion of God’s kingdom in the midst of this evil age. This portion of the kingdom of God will be different from the kingdom in its fullness in several important ways.

So the key to understanding these parables is to ask: “What do they teach about God’s kingdom that is different than the Old Testament view?”

This is not merely an academic exercise--because these parables describe the period of history in which we live! If we want to understand God’s purpose for our individual lives, we must understand God’s plan for humanity and what stage of God’s plan we’re in. They also explain key features of true Christianity, and they warn us against important mistakes to avoid.

So let’s survey each of these parables and glean some important application from them . . .

Sower & Soils

Read Matt. 13:3-9. Jesus helps us get started by explaining the meaning of this parable--read Luke 8:11-14.

The Old Testament taught that when the kingdom of God of came, it will be imposed by an irresistible King (cf. Dan. 2,7).

But during the “mystery” portion of God’s kingdom, it is not imposed by kingly force--it is spread through a resistible message. The four soils represent four ways (non-exhaustive list) people can respond to this good news. I have had all of these responses! At one time, I simply rejected it and forgot it. Another time, I received eagerly but wanted Jesus to be my Genie, and dropped him when he wouldn’t. Since receiving Christ, I have allowed materialistic lusts and worries to sidetrack me. And when I have responded with honest hunger, I have experienced its power to change my life and draw others to God through me.

So what? Why is this important for us to understand?

For one thing, Jesus is teaching that Christianity should be spread by communicating the good news and inviting people to receive it--not by coercing people! Unlike the Qur’an, which authorizes the use of force to convert people to Islam, Jesus condemns any historical form of Christianity that attempts to covert by force (INQUISITIONS; CRUSADES; CROMWELL). We should be ambassadors of God’s kingdom--modeling, inviting, persuading--but never manipulating or intimidating.

From the standpoint of those who hear this message, Jesus is emphasizing the important implications of your response. Only a positive response to this message results in a fruitful life. God upholds your freedom to reject this message--but it is God’s message, and it can have tremendous impact for good in your life if you receive it.

Wheat & Tares

Read Matt. 13:24-30. One more time, Jesus explains this parable to us. After this, we’re on our own--read Matt. 13:37-41.

The Old Testament taught that when God’s kingdom came, God would separate those who belong to him from those who don’t (cf. Dan. 12; Matt. 3:11,12).

But during the “mystery” portion of God’s kingdom, it is God’s will for those who belong to him to live together in the world with those who don’t belong to him (and who are even hostile to him). Any attempt to separate God’s people from the rest of humanity before the end of the age is a disaster.

So what? Why is this important for us to understand?

For one thing, it condemns the Christian “ghetto” strategy (MONASTIC MOVEMENT; AMERICAN FUNDAMENTALISM & CHRISTIAN SUB-CULTURE). God does not want his people top withdraw from human society; he wants us to be SALT and LIGHT--associating with lost people so that our distinctness (God’s love and life) can attract them to Christ.


Jesus tells another parable that is very similar to the wheat and tares--but which makes a slightly different point. Read Matt. 13:47-49.

Like the previous parable, Jesus affirms that when God’s kingdom comes in its fullness, God would separate those who belong to him from those who don’t (cf. Isa. 41:15,16; Jer. 15:7).

But during its “mystery” phase, God’s kingdom will sweep up into its sphere of influence people who do not really belong to God. (The net has never been made that catches only walleye and never carp.) Only at the end of the age will many of these people be fully exposed and judged.

So what? Why is this important for us to understand?

We should not be surprised by the many wicked people who have taught and done horrible things in the name of Jesus (cf. Matt. 24:4,5,11 - CULT LEADERS). Others have been innocuous by comparison, but communicate a boring and lifeless Christianity (2 Tim. 3:5 - MAINLINE MINISTERS). Jesus predicted that Satan would seek to discredit God’s kingdom by infiltrating it in this way.

This is one reason why the New Testament emphasizes the importance of learning God’s Word. We don’t live in a spiritually friendly (or even neutral) world. People who naively follow anyone who claims to believe in Jesus, graduated from seminary, is a charismatic preacher, etc. can have their lives spiritually (and sometimes physically) destroyed. Only by learning the Word and using it to test teachings and leaders can we be discern and reject the counterfeit and embrace the genuine! I value your trust, but not your unconditional trust! You do me no favors by relying on what I say--check it out with the Bible!

Mustard Seed & Leaven

Read Matt. 13:31-33. These two parables teach a very different contrast between the kingdom in its fullness and that of its “mystery” phase.

The Old Testament taught that when God’s kingdom comes, its domination will be total and instantaneous. It will come in a dramatic way, and it will cover the whole earth.

But during its “mystery” phase, God’s kingdom will start in such a small way that it seems insignificant. Think of Jesus and his band of blue-collar followers. Think of how people assumed that his death snuffed out the whole crazy project. Think of the odds against his followers in the first century. Yet in spite of its smallness and apparent insignificance, the Christian movement is an underground miracle. It has the power to grow and spread by transforming one life at a time.

Treasure & Pearl

Read Matt. 13:44-46. These two parables teach a related but different contrast between the kingdom in its fullness and that of its “mystery” phase.

The Old Testament taught that when God’s kingdom comes, its coming will be anything but hidden--it will be absolutely unmistakable (Isa. 13,24; Dan. 7).

But during its mystery phase, God’s kingdom is hidden in the sense that you have to look for it like these merchants. It won’t knock you over and sweep you off your feet. Yet it is indeed God’s kingdom, and therefore precious beyond all price.

So what? Why is this important for us to understand?

For one thing, finding Jesus is the greatest discovery that you will ever make! You may stumble upon him without really looking for him (i.e., through a friend), or you may find him in your search for meaning and significance. His gift of forgiveness seems too good to be true--but it is true. His Holy Spirit makes you alive to God and able to experience his personal love. His guidance fills your life with significance. His comfort during suffering is precious beyond all words. Though at the time you may be tentative, the positive consequences of this decision just keep growing and growing. Have you ever asked Christ to come into your life? Is today the day that you will?

For another thing, serving Jesus and helping to advance his kingdom is a privilege that is worth any sacrifice. You don’t make sacrifices to gain Christ (unlike these parables), but once you gain Christ you realize that any sacrifice is a bargain. When you experience God’s love through Jesus, you realize that the only appropriate response is to give him your whole life--your time, your relationships, your possessions, your plans, your career, etc.--and ask him to use you and everything connected to you to spread his kingdom to others (as per “Lord’s Prayer”). This alone makes life truly fulfilling! Have you ever done this?

Copyright 2004 Gary DeLashmutt