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Tuesday
Feb172015

What is the Kingdom of Heaven Like?

Today we will be looking at Luke 13:18-21.

In this passage we have two parables that explain what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like.  They are very small parables and so only give a small view of the Kingdom.  However, in Matthew 13 we have these same parables along with 5 others.

Now it is important to understand what Jesus is referring to when he uses this phrase, “Kingdom of Heaven.”  Jesus is speaking about the Church Age that was about to begin.  The faithful remnant of Israel had been awaiting the day when the Messiah would come and rule over Israel and the whole earth in righteousness and truth.  God had promised to bring the rule of God that exists in Heaven to the earth.  Of course they did not understand that this Kingdom would have two stages.  The first stage is a time when Christ would only interact with His people spiritually.  He would not judge the nations and rule over them literally.  However, He would rule over a remnant of every nation, tribe and tongue as the Gospel was received by people everywhere.  The second stage will be when Jesus comes back literally (visibly, physically) to the earth.  He will judge the wicked rulers and armies of the nations and establish a visible administration upon the earth.  Now that Jesus was here and they believed Him to be the Messiah, the questions on their mind had to do with when he would do this.  Yet, Jesus knows that they don’t completely understand what is coming.  Thus his descriptions of the coming Kingdom of Heaven are not exactly what they were expecting.  Let’s get into the passage.

It Is Like A Mustard Seed

The Gospel and the Word of God are often referred to as a seed.  This makes sense because they are information and have the power to cause spiritual life and growth.  Yet, in this passage it is clear that the seed is a reference to the visible size of the Church or Kingdom of Heaven.  When it is planted it will look small and unremarkable.  Yes, Christ initially had a huge following of people who listened to him.  However, the closer he came to the cross less and less people followed him.  On the Day of Pentecost there are only 120 believers assembled together.  This small seed may not look like much but it had a destiny that was given by God.

This very small seed would grow into a remarkable tree.  In fact on the Day of Pentecost we see the remarkable growth that the Kingdom would experience- 3,000 people were saved on that day i.e. 25,000% growth.  This small group would grow into a large community that would spread throughout the whole earth, which is much greater than any would have thought.  If you look at the statistics of the Church today we see large numbers that claim to believe in Jesus in every corner of the globe.

The parable also points out that the tree will be a place of rest and shelter.  Especially in the Middle East, a tree is a source of shade from the intense heat.  Both people and animals can use trees for resting but also for protection from predators.  It is important to recognize that the Old Testament uses the image of a tree to speak of the empires of Assyria and Babylon.  In fact in Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream where he and his kingdom are described as a large tree covering the whole earth.  He is told that the tree will be cut down and its branches stripped off.  This is interesting because whether we want to admit it or not the Church has become like a great empire throughout the earth.  The nations have long recognized this truth and the institutional power that is wielded by the Church.  We can see this in the fact that the Vatican has over 110 embassies throughout the world and 80 nations have embassies to Vatican City.  It is here that we begin to sense a sinister turn to the revelation.  Why would Jesus use a metaphor that was used of wicked empires in the past?  We could say that the Church would be different and not be wicked.  Yet, history teaches us that the institutional aspect of the Church has not been good at following Jesus. 

We also must notice the reference to the birds resting in the branches.  Yes, it can be a simple reference to the beasts of the earth and the birds of the air (common folk and those who rule over them and are of higher station).  Yet, Jesus had used the image of the birds in the Parable of the Sower.  Here the birds of the air are the evil spirits of the Devil who are working to eat the seed of the Gospel out of people’s lives.  Also, in Revelation 18 verse 2 we see a statement during the judgment of Mystery Babylon, who is a promoter of false doctrine and false worship in league with the Last Days empire of the Antichrist.  “And he cried mightily with a loud voice saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!”  Notice the clear connection between the literal “demons” and the metaphorical “hated bird.”  Now I admit that based upon this parable alone one might hesitate to say that the birds of Luke 13:19 are intended to be pointing to demons.  In fact, I tend to see a double meaning here.  Yes, the Church would become a good thing that would give rest and shelter to the weary and righteous.  However, all earthly institutions have a kind of institutional creep in which at best it loses focus on its true purpose and at worst is taken over by those who are opposed to the purpose.  On top of this we have the prophetic announcements that there will be a great apostasy in the last days leading up to the rise of Antichrist.  Typically apostasy has not simply left a church.  Rather, apostasy always tries to take over the group and only leaves if made to.  We can also recognize that in Matthew 13, four of the seven parables have unquestionable sinister elements.  Thus the Church would be a good thing.  But the visible institution would eventually evidence evil spirits roosting throughout it.  With that said, let’s move to the next parable.

It Is Like Yeast

Leaven or yeast is used in cooking for causing bread to rise.  Thus in the culinary field it is a good thing.  Yet, in the Bible yeast is used symbolically as a picture of sin.  Sin operates by the similar principle of puffing up a person or group with pockets of empty vain things.  Sin also may start small but it will affect the entire loaf if it is not removed.  This is why Israel was to eat unleavened bread during the feast after Passover.  Those who were saved by Christ were to follow Him in His righteousness.  Thus Jesus is clearly saying that the Church as a visible institution would be stained with sinful people who would begin to affect the whole.  Yes, we could try to make this speak well by saying it represents the ability of the Church to work throughout and affect the whole world for good.  But the sinister things keep stacking up.

It is like yeast that a woman has hidden…  As if the image of yeast wasn’t bad enough.  Why is the woman hiding the yeast in the grain?  Clearly it is not supposed to be in the grain and she is doing what she shouldn’t.  Here intentions are not good.  At this point it is god for us to remember that in Luke 12 Jesus had warned his disciples to watch out for the “leaven” of the Pharisees.  The leaven referred to the corrupting influence of their false teaching.  This woman has sowed false teaching among the grain (the Lord’s harvest) and, like the Jezebel of Revelation 2:20, she will affect all who allow her and her influence to stay.

Next we notice that she is hiding the leaven in “3 measures of grain.”  As I said, the Grain represents the visible Church that is the harvest of the earth to the Lord.  Yet, the amount referenced would stick out to the original hearers as the amount that was used for the Grain Offering at the temple.  It was also used when Abraham fed the Lord and the angels before Sodom was destroyed.  Thus the worship and fellowship of the Church, both among itself and with its Lord, is affected by the work of this woman who promotes false doctrine.

Christ warns that the false teaching will affect the whole thing.  Paul warns against this in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, “Your glorying is not good.  Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  Therefore, purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened.  For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.  Therefore, let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”  Paul was telling the Corinthians to remove the “leavened lump.”  This is first of all false doctrine and second of all anyone who will not cease promoting it.  The early Church had to fight in order to keep the Gospel free from the leavening influence of sinful teaching.  Over time, however, some leadership quit resisting false teaching and eventually began embracing it.  As false teaching took over an institution, true Christians would have to separate in order to spare themselves from the corrupting influence.  Some point to the multitude of denominations today as a condemnation of the Church because it does not love.  Although there is a sliver of truth in this, we are told to separate from those who call themselves Christians but promote false teaching and ungodly lifestyles.  Thus the multitude of denominations is proof that no institution is safe from the corrupting influence of this woman and her yeast.  In all of this, only the institutions and those who cling to them are corrupted.  The true Church of God always follows Jesus through the difficult path of the wilderness.  He always leads us forward in victory, if we will follow and listen to him alone.

Final Thoughts:

It is important today for Churches to stand with Christ uncompromisingly.  That does not mean we should lack love and service for the lost.  However, the Gospel has always been a call to the hurting of this world to save themselves from this wicked and corrupt world that is under the judgment of God.  It is a call to shelter from the storm.  We have to be about our Father’s business of calling all who will to enter into the shelter that Jesus provides.  He is our covering and shelter from the coming Judgment.  Pointing people to Jesus and following him is primary.  False doctrines have a way of making something other than Jesus primary.

We also need to keep up the work of the Lord in the midst of growing resistance and apostasy within the Church.  Stand for the Faith that has been delivered, once and for all, to the saints.  If you are in a church that will not put up with such warnings, but instead embraces the false doctrines of today, then find a group of believers that will stand for Truth.  They do exist.  Don’t listen to the Devil’s lie that you are the only one.

Lastly, we must do so until the Judgment day arrives.  Even when all the world is falling apart around us, our job is to simply remain faithful at the work the Lord has given us to do.  Work now while it is day, for the night comes when no man can work.  Don’t let the corruption that happens in the world and in the Church weaken your resolve to live for Jesus.

Kingdom of Heaven audio