During His ministry Jesus spoke often of the Kingdom of God. At times He used parables when referring to this kingdom. A parable is an allegorical story that illustrates some truth, or religious principle, or moral lesson. The common belief today is that Jesus spoke in parables in order to make clear what He was saying to the people. This is not so. In fact, just the opposite is the case. In Matthew 13 Jesus gave “the parable of the sower.” Later, in private, His disciples asked Him: “. . . Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” (v.10). The disciples knew the people had not understood what Jesus was really saying.
Notice His answer:
He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear (Matt. 13:11-16).
Then Jesus went on to explain privately to His disciples what he had meant by the parable (vv. 19-23). It is clear He did not intend for the masses to understand what He said.
The same thing, stated even more clearly, is explained in Mark 4:2-12. The disciples later asked Jesus about the meaning of the parable.
Notice Mark 4:10-12:
And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. “And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them (Mark 4:10-12).
Jesus did not explain the meaning of the parable to the public. He explained it only to His disciples.
In Matthew’s account of this parable, Jesus refers to the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:11). Mark’s account calls it the Kingdom of God (Mark 4:11). This reveals that the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven are one and the same. This kingdom is a literal kingdom that God will set up on the earth when Christ returns. Notice how this is described in Matthew 25:
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:31-34).
Jesus has not yet returned, but when He does all nations will answer to him. He is coming to rule this earth.
Here is the description:
And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS (Rev. 19:11-16).
Many of the parables that Jesus gave refer to the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven and the Kingdom of God are one and the same. The parables show what qualifications are needed to enter that kingdom, what the kingdom is going to be like, and how it will come about. The parables are important lessons for those who are truly seeking that kingdom. As we go through the parables we will see how valuable they are.
At times Jesus was questioned about the Kingdom of God. On one occasion the Pharisees demanded to know when the Kingdom of God would appear. Their idea of the kingdom was that God would raise up a human champion who would deliver them from Roman rule. They envisioned a literal kingdom, but one that would be ruled by a man elevated to a level higher than other men. They failed to see from their own Scriptures that Christ was God in the flesh, and that His mission at that time was to give Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. He would not come as the conquering king to set up His kingdom until His second coming. When challenged by the Pharisees, Christ replied: “. . . The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21). Many Christians interpret this text to mean that one who accepts Christ somehow has the Kingdom of God within. The word “within” is a mistranslation in the Authorized Version. Most marginal references will show the word to be “among.” What did Jesus mean by this answer? He told the Pharisees they would not see the kingdom at that time. Rather, what they were seeing was the King of that kingdom-in the person of Jesus Christ!
This is made plain in the book of Daniel. Chapter two describes a dream of King Nebuchadnezzar. In it he saw four great beasts. Daniel interpreted these beasts to mean four world-ruling empires. In verse 37 Daniel told the king: “Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold” (Dan. 2:37-38). Daniel was referring to the Babylonian Empire. Then he spoke of other world-ruling empires to follow. “And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth” (Dan. 2:39). By equating the word “king” in verse 37 with the word “kingdom” in verse 39, Daniel revealed that the words “king” and “kingdom” are synonymous. According to Bible usage they mean the same. This provides the key to what Jesus told the Pharisees. When He said, “. . . the kingdom is [among] you,” He was announcing that He-Christ-the King of God’s coming kingdom stood among them at that very moment. The Pharisees, of course, failed to grasp what He was really saying.
The Kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven are the same. When Jesus said, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19), He did not mean the saved go to heaven, and the lost go to hell. Rather, He said those who are in the kingdom of heaven, which is the kingdom of God on the earth, will either praise or impugn men on the basis of their respect for the Law of God. He did not say in this text that anyone would be in heaven. In fact, John tells us the only one who ever went to heaven was Christ (John 3:13).
Matthew 17:1-9 needs an explanation in the light of what is stated above.
This text reads:
And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead (Matt. 17:1-9).
The key to properly understanding this, is the word “vision” in verse nine and the statement Jesus made in Matthew 16:28. He promised to give these disciples a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. Matthew 17:1-9 then goes on to describe this preview. It was given to the disciples in the form of a vision. The text does not say Moses and Elias were in the Kingdom of God with Christ. Why? Because at that time even Christ Himself was not in the Kingdom of God! He was on the earth with His disciples giving them a preview of what the coming Kingdom of God would be like. He was not saying that Moses and Elias were in heaven.
Continuing with the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:18-23), Jesus described the kind of people who have been made knowledgeable about the kingdom-people who have listened to the message about the kingdom and then made choices. Notice what He described. There were those who had a shallow grasp, or failed to really see the significance of what they were told. The devil soon snatched away that which had been sown in their hearts (v. 19). There were those who had been superficially impressed but had no “root in themselves.” Eventually they stumbled because of persecution or tribulation and abandoned the truth (vv. 20-21). There were those who received the message but were caught up in the various distractions the world had to offer. They failed to grow in grace and knowledge (v. 22). Finally, there were those who received the truth, and truly produced spiritual fruit, some more than others, but all produced fruit just the same (v. 23). These are the ones who will be in the Kingdom of God. This is why Jesus said in Matthew 13:12: “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.”
Jesus tells all of us:
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine (Matt. 7:24-28).