Foundational Framework Part 56 - Pieces of the End Part 2

Foundational Frameworks.png

Foundational Truths: The Bible is God’s self-revelation.
God is the Eternal, Sovereign Creator; all that He creates is good.
Man is a responsible agent, held to a moral standard.
Sin originates within a person, separating us from God.
God declares one righteous by faith alone, apart from works.
The glory of God is the centerpiece and goal of all existence.
God’s glory is maximally realized in the promised, coming Kingdom.

With the interpretations for the Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:18-23) and the Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Matt 13:36-43) provided, we are now left with two short parables that are spoken before the crowds (Matt 13:2) that have no interpretation accompanying them. This fact should not discourage us. We should find help in the interpretations already provided and use the details given to us as a guide for understanding what follows.

Matthew 13:31-35. In this section we find the Parable of the Mustard Seed (13:31-32), the Parable of the Leaven (13:33), and a brief commentary from Matthew inserted after the fourth parable to reiterate Jesus’ teaching in parables to the Jewish crowds (13:34-35). This comment is significant because it stresses the “veiled” teaching of Jesus toward the Jews in response to their rejection of Him as their Promised Messiah (Matt 12:24), but it also reinforces the comments made earlier to the disciples in Matthew 13:10-17 regarding the mysteries of the kingdom.

Since no interpretation is provided for the third and fourth parables, we must use the information that we already have from the first and second parables and seek to make a consistent conclusion that would find alignment with the interpretations that Jesus had provided.

In Matthew 13:31, Jesus states that “the kingdom of heaven is like…” giving us the timing and the frame of reference for how we should understand His teaching. As before with the wheat and tares, there is nothing that is pointing us in any other direction than the time when the kingdom of God will be in effect on Earth, which is after the 7-year Tribulation when Christ returns (Rev 19:11-21). There is also nothing present that would make our minds think that the Church is involved in these teachings.

Jesus goes on to compare that time with a mustard seed being sown in a field. The “sower” imagery is found in the first three parables, and we can understand that the sower is the Son of Man (13:37) and the field is the world (13:38a). The seed, however, seems to be something different than “the word of the kingdom” (13:19a) or “the sons of the kingdom” (13:38b- the “good seed” in Matthew 13:24c). Instead, the mustard seed is the kingdom itself. 

Some have balked at the notion that the mustard seed is “smaller than all other seeds” (13:32a), but these criticisms are quickly dismissed when one considers that Jesus is not speaking of all seeds from all times in all places of life in the world. Blomberg notes that “mustard seeds were the smallest seeds commonly planted in Palestinian fields,”[1] which serves Jesus’ purpose in using everyday items to communicate significant points. Thus, the term is not an absolute one, but it is relevant to the time.

The mustard seed in first century Palestine usually averaged about four feet in height and resembled more of a bush than a tree. However, there were some possibilities that the seed could grow to be as much as 10 feet tall[2] with some noting the abnormal growth of such a plant to reach from 15-20 feet. The comparison that Jesus makes is that the mustard seed grows to be larger than the other “garden plants,” becoming a tree. The comparison of this tree’s size compared to the other garden plants should be considered. If the seed is representative of the kingdom of heaven, this means that its beginnings will be small, yet it will grow to an abnormal size, greater than any other before it. If we are speaking about the kingdom of heaven in relation to other kingdoms that had come before, this imagery makes perfect sense (Dan 2:36-45).

What finishes off this parable is the remark that “the birds of the air come and nest in its branches” (13:32b). This seems to be taken from Ezekiel 17:23; 31:6; and Psalm 104:12, however, it must be understood that the use of these verses are not to be seen as an interpretation, but they are verses that are used as an application to this parable. In other words, Jesus is not using the end of this parable to explain the meaning of these Old Testament passages, nor do these Old Testament passages interpret this parable for us. Rather, we should understand that each passage has its own meaning in its own context as the original author wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is applying these passages here, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, using their contents to better communicate Jesus’ current point.

The issue of the birds nesting in the branches of this mustard tree will find a suitable explanation when compared with what Jesus had previously shared with the crowds. In the Parable of the Sower, the seed that was sown beside the road was eaten by birds (Matt 13:4). Jesus interprets this as the evil one coming and snatching away the seed that had been sown (Matt 13:19b). Taking these instances into consideration, and understanding that they are part of the same group of teaching that Jesus taught the crowds, we can understand the birds to be symbolic of the devil, or at least his influence in the growth of the mustard seed.

Two important things need to be observed. First, the birds nesting in the branches of the tree do not appear until the tree has reached a point of maturity that would sustain the birds being there. This can be likened to the wheat and tares growing side by side, but the discernment of each one was not evident until maturity was reached.

Second, the truths in the Parable of the Mustard Seed are truths that are perfectly parallel to the Parable of the Wheat and Tares (13:24-30). The appearance of an evil influence in the kingdom of heaven become evident alongside the good growth of the kingdom. Whereas the kingdom starts small, like a mustard seed, it grows to encompass the whole world, which is something that no kingdom before it will do. It will be a kingdom of abnormal growth, even though it began after a war in the plains of Megiddo with the return of Jesus Christ who then established His throne in David’s line from Jerusalem (Rev 16:12-16; 19:11-21).

Again, Glass explains this in consistent detail. He writes, “Christ’s point here, therefore, is that His kingdom will grow from its beginnings in the righteous Jewish and Gentile remnants until it encompasses the entire world (a fact which was revealed in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Dan 2:35), but as it grows, it will accommodate those who are evil — who oppose its principles of righteousness, and will later rebel against Messiah (Rev 20:7–8). In fact, this is very likely the secret of the almost immediate worldwide following Satan gains among the nations upon his release from the abyss.”[3]

This parable has been sorely abused due to a reinterpretation of the details provided, even by the finest of scholars and preachers. For instance, Virkler writes, “in the parable of the mustard seed (Matt. 13:31–32) the central purpose is to show the spread of the gospel from a tiny band of Christians (the mustard seed) to a worldwide body of believers (the full-grown tree). The relationship between the seed, the tree, the field, the nest, and the birds is casual, and these details acquire significance only in relationship to the growing tree.”[4] Is the “kingdom of heaven” the equivalent to the “spread of the gospel?” The text says “no.” As highly regarded as Virkler is, his assertion has missed the mark.

Some have sought to compare the mustard tree with the tree that is seen by Daniel in a vision in Daniel 4:10-17. However, a contextual consideration of this chapter sees that it is King Nebuchadnezzar who is this tree, and who is chopped down (Dan 4:14) and who is “drenched with dew” and who has a “share with the beasts in the grass of the earth” (Dan 4:15b), which is a pronouncement that is perfectly concluded by Daniel in 4:20-22 and is played out in the king’s life in 4:28-37. Therefore, a connection of both trees should not be considered valid.

The Parable of the Leaven finds little difference in communicating the same point: there will be a gradual growth of evil alongside the righteousness of the future kingdom of Christ. The varying factor in this parable is not birds but leaven (Matt 13:33a). Jesus teaches that the “kingdom of heaven is like…” showing the same formula as before. The picture is one of a woman who put “three pecks” of leaven into a batch of flour. Three “pecks” is between 44-99 pounds of leaven. With the mention of “leaven” we automatically have the idea of something that is a permeating and saturating influence. The question is, is it good or bad?

Blomberg has offered his explanation based on the “immediate context,” stating that just as the mustard seed begins small and progresses to an abnormal growth, so the leaven starts small and proceeds in the same way. He writes, “Yeast can be a positive symbol (e.g., Lev 7:13–14; 23:17) and, with all the parables dealing with the growth of plants and seeds in this chapter having the positive referent of the growth of the kingdom, the parable of the yeast must almost certainly be taken this way too.”[5] Blomberg’s appeal to the immediate context is correct in principle. However, he does not understand the “kingdom of heaven” as speaking to the future reign of Christ on the Earth, ruling from the throne of David, but as a current reality in the here and now. He writes, “The current manifestation of God’s reign within Jesus’ small band of disciples seems relatively impotent; one day many will be astonished about how their movement grew and impacted the world.”[6]

We must ask the question: Is this how “yeast/leaven” is commonly understood, and is this how it is used in the Gospel of Matthew?

Concerning previous occasions where leaven is used, Glass writes, “It was forbidden in the Passover meal (Ex 12:8, 15, 18–20, 34, 39; 34:25); it was prohibited in the meal offering (Lev 2:11; 6:17; cf. 10:12); and it was apparently excluded from the Bread of the Presence in the Tabernacle.  In his epistles, Paul employs the figure of leaven to denote the corrupting influence of moral sin (1 Cor 5:6–8) and the dangerous inroads of doctrinal error (Gal 5:8–9).”[7]

Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus warns His disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (Matt 16:6). Matthew’s commentary on this situation in 16:12 tells us that His disciples “understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Matthew shows us that Jesus’ words were likening the teachings of these two groups with leaven. This is a satisfactory understanding of the Parable of the Leaven in Matthew 13:33.

In this parable, it would seem that the flour represents the kingdom, while the woman represents the devil who dispenses destructive leaven (“teaching”) into the kingdom, which ends up working its way through the entire realm. This conclusion finds greater consistency for two reasons.

First, the kingdom of heaven, as clearly understood by Matthew’s audience, is not a present reality in any shape or form. Second, the rebellion that ensues upon Satan’s release from the abyss in Revelation 20:7-10 shows him “deceiving the nations,” finding scores of people who willingly follow him in mounting a revolt against the righteous rule of Jesus Christ. This action is judged, but we must ask “how did it get to this point?” The concurrent growth of good and evil during the Millennial Kingdom provides a perfect explanation (Matt 13:30, 40-43).

1.     Handing the Kingdom over to the Father (Matt 13:43).

The comment is made at the end of the interpretation of the Parable of the Wheat and Tares that “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt 13:43).  This is an unusual designation for “the kingdom of heaven,” but we should not easily conclude that this is what it is referring to. Scripture gives us a better understanding that plays out in the writings of the Apostle Paul.

As a quick note, we must see that the righteous shining forth as the sun is something that occurs after the “stumbling blocks” and those who commit “lawlessness” (Matt 13:41b) are cast into the Lake of Fire. Therefore, this is an opposite result that occurs in conjunction with the Lake of Fire event. Seeing that the judgment of lawless individuals to the Lake of Fire occurs at the end of the 1,000 year reign of Christ (Rev 20:2-7; 11-15), we can conclude that the “kingdom of their Father” is the Eternal State where there is a New and a New Earth (Rev 21:1).

Paul concisely explains this point.

2.     A Timeline of the End Times (1 Cor 15:20-26).

First Corinthians 15 speaks to the wonderful fact of the believer’s resurrection. Sadly, many have failed to make the connection between the believer’s resurrection and the rapture of the Church. Both are one in the same.

*It would be helpful to read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 before continuing.

Starting in 1 Corinthians 15:20, Paul tells us that Christ, who has been raised from the dead, is the “first fruits” of those who are “asleep.” The idea of being “asleep” for believers in Christ is the same as having passed away (1 Thess 4:13-15). The idea of the “first fruits” goes back to the Old Testament where those of the house of Israel would give a first portion of their crops to YHWH (Exod 23:15-16; 34:22, 26; Num 28:26-31; Deut 26:1-11). Gerig notes that the “first fruits, as a foretaste of more to come, were offered to God in thanksgiving for his goodness in providing them.”[8] This is precisely how we should understand Jesus Christ as the “first fruits” here: He is a foretaste of more to come, with the “more” being believers in Christ at the Rapture.

In 1 Corinthians 15:21 we see that death comes through Adam, but life comes through Jesus Christ. This connection is reasonably seen in that in Adam all die, while in Christ Jesus all “will be made alive” (15:22b) speaking to the resurrection/rapture of the saints. At this point, Paul provides a timeline showing the order of the resurrection/rapture of believers, as well as the order of the End Times events. While this timeline is concise, it is not lacking in clarity.

In v. 23 we are told that there is an order (tagmata- “that which has been arranged, thing placed in order.”)[9] Christ is first, being the first fruits (15:20) that has already been raised (1 Thess 4:14a). “After that those who are Christ’s at His coming,” meaning believers will then be raised after Christ (1 Thess 4:14b-17), but we must take note that the timing is specific. “At His coming” could mean the Second Coming at the end of the Tribulation but this would violate Paul’s comments in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, seeing that the Tribulation Period is an outpouring of the wrath of God on unbelieving humanity. This is not a place for those “in Christ.” Rather, we are destined for salvation (glorification), not the wrath of God.

In 1 Corinthians 15:24, we are told “then comes the end,” with “comes” not in the original. “Then” in the Greek is eita meaning “a point of time following another point,”[10] speaking to successive events. The end will come after the rapture of the saints. This “end” is further explained by Paul as a time when “He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father” (1 Cor 15:24b). It is this point that corresponds perfectly with “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt 13:43). In the end, Christ will hand the kingdom that was granted to Him (Dan 7:13-14) over to the Father, but in a different form than when He initially established it. Reading on explains this point.

The Lord Jesus Christ will first “abolish all rule and authority and power” before handing the kingdom over to His Father (1 Cor 15:24c). We are told that Jesus “must reign,” speaking to the 1,000 year reign of Christ, until a certain point: until He has put all His enemies under His feet (1 Cor 15:25). Jesus’ enemies are those who are “stumbling blocks” and those who are “lawless” from Matthew 13:41b. They are the “sons of the evil one” (Matt 13:38) that grew up alongside the “sons of the kingdom. In comparing 1 Corinthians 15:26 with Revelation 20:14, we find it to be a perfectly spelled-out fact that “death” is the last enemy of Jesus Christ to be destroyed, and it will be cast into the Lake of Fire. Thus, Jesus will deliver the kingdom to the Father after 1,00 years of reigning which culminates in His putting down of a rebellion and disposing of sin, Hell, and death. At that time, He will hand the kingdom over. God has an incredible plan for history. This plan has been told to us in detail in His holy Word. Have we allowed the anxieties and the worries of the world get to us because we have been seeking our news about the world from the wrong source? Do we know our Bibles? Has our hope been based on God’s plan, or man’s agenda?

Only one wins in the end.


[1] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), p. 220.

[2] Richard T. France, “Matthew,” New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), p. 922.

[3] Ronald N. Glass, “The Parables of the Kingdom: A Paradigm for Consistent Dispensational Hermeneutics, “Michigan Theological Journal 5 (1994): 118.

[4] Henry A. Virkler and Karelynne Gerber Ayayo, Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), p. 160.

[5] Blomberg, Matthew, p. 220.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Glass, “Parables,” 118.

[8] Wesley L. Gerig, “First Fruits,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), p. 791.

[9] Thayer, p. 613.

[10] Louw and Nida, p. 634.

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