Problem of the Kingdom of God

A Systems Analysis Solution

Harold R. Booher, Ph.D.

Copyright 2013 - Harold R. Booher

Appendix C:  The Secrets and Titles of the Kingdom of God

Secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven

Matthew Chapter 13 provides seven parables six of which Jesus says have to do with the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. These six parables when considered with Mark’s parable (4:26-29) help lock in major characteristics that define the entire kingdom process.  The “wheat and the tares” parable was analyzed in Chapter 6 where we found the good seed and the tares represent God’s sons and Satan’s sons respectively.  The timing of this parable occurs throughout the manifest kingdom dispensation with the good seed planted at its start and the tares sown secretly sometime later. The tares are separated out at the end of this kingdom period just before and during the great testing stage.  A full discussion of all six of Matthew’s parables on the kingdom of heaven is provided by Otis Sellers, in his article “The Secrets of the Kingdom of the Heavens.”  His interpretations and examples are used as the core interpretation below. Other interpretations and elaborations are provided by the author where considered relevant.

All of Jesus’ parables are formed around examples that help to paint an unusual picture with familiar subjects. Whether a pearl, a lost coin, a mustard seed, or a buried treasure the example is drawn from something the audience is well acquainted, but at the same time it is always a little off from reality.  This is because there is really nothing in reality to compare with the kingdom, so it must be distorted to paint a picture that stretches the hearer’s imagination. Also the kingdom being so pervasive, different examples are needed to illustrate different features of the kingdom.

The five other parables in Matthew 13 that are likened to the kingdom of heaven are:

  1. The mustard seed
  2. The leaven
  3. The treasure
  4. The pearl of great price
  5. The drag net

The Mustard Seed.  Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. Matt. 13:31, 32.

This parable shows an unordinary approach to planting.  No man would plant only one seed and expect it to fill an entire field or garden. Nevertheless the picture our Lord wished to paint was that in the beginning God’s government starts with only one seed that would seem quite insignificant. Yet from this one seed God plants His government and literally puts it into the earth, which springs forth and grows in His own field, the land of Palestine. The parable shows the process of growing from something very small to the greatest beneficent government the earth has ever known.  The birds of air might be likened to the nations that seek the kingdom of God for their learning and guidance.
Some interpreters (e.g., Keating, T. The Kingdom of God is Like …,  Crossroad, 1993, p.36 ff) attempt to minimize the size of the mustard “tree” resulting from planting a mustard seed in a garden (Luke’s version). This is so an interpretation might read to fit the extent of current Christianity: “It is growing, but it is not going to turn us into a cedar of Lebanon. We will be doing well if we become a modest scrub.” (p. 40).  Most, however grant that the Lord is making an apt comparison of something small which grows quite large. The mustard seed is very small (about one millimeter in diameter) and can grow into a very large bush (as high as 12 feet), have branches that look like a tree and have birds nest in them. (Barclay, W, The Parables of Jesus, Westminster John Knox, 1999, p.52; Wenham, D., The Parables of Jesus, InterVarsity, 1989, p. 54)

Keating also implies that planting a mustard seed in a garden would be illegal.

The rabbinical law of diverse kinds ruled that one could not mix certain plants in the same garden. A mustard seed was forbidden in a household garden because it was fast spreading and would tend to invade the veggies.  In stating that this man planted a mustard seed in his garden, the hearers were alerted to the fact that he was doing something illegal. An unclean image thus becomes the starting point for Jesus vision of the kingdom of God  (Keating. p. 38)

More likely the field (or garden) represents God’s land, Palestine, as His planting area. While some hearers might at first think of “planting a mustard seed in a garden” reflecting an illegal action based on rabbinical law, it is not likely they would see this to be an important part of the comparison to kingdom of God.  It is the magnitude of change that is the subject here, not who did the planting. But if we want to liken the planter to anyone, it would be God who is the planter.  It would not be wise to accuse God of doing something illegal in starting the kingdom.  Moreover two of the versions of the parable mention “field,” not “garden,” so there is no reason to assume the Lord was planting in a “household” garden.

It is important in order to draw the correct interpretation intended by our Lord, that certain principles regarding interpretation of parables always be considered before deciding on the best interpretation. Sellers describes two principles that he applied to parable interpretation.  His first principle is:  It is not true that once a feature has been used as a symbol, likeness, metaphor, or illustration in one parable, its meaning is fixed for all others.  Some things are neither inherently good or bad so may be neutral in meaning. For example a lion may be used to represent something either good or bad in scripture.  In Rev 5:5 Jesus Christ is called “the Lion of the bride of Judah.”  However in I Peter 5:8 find the statement that “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about seeking whom he may devour.”  It would be erroneous therefore to try to assign something “wicked” to the birds of the air in this parable, just because “fowls” represented the “wicked one” in an earlier parable (Matt. 13:19).

A second principle is: Not every feature of the parable is significant.  In The Study of the Parables, A.R. Habershon quotes Francis Roberts to illustrate this principle. (Sellers, “The Secrets of the Kingdom of the Heavens,” p. 14)

In a sword there’s hilt, and back, and edge, but only the edge cuts. In an instrument there’s wood, and brass, and belly, and frets, but only the strings do make the melody.  So there are many passages in parabolic Scriptures subservient to the main scope, which must be understood with tendency and reference thereto. The scope of a parable is the key of a parable.    

Applying the second principle to the parable of the wheat among the tares, for example, we see our Lord attached no significance and made no explanation of the ”servants of the household” who came to him saying, “Sir, did not you sow good seed in your field?” These men were incidental to the illustration of the kingdom scope in that parable.  Similarly the birds of the air in the parable of the mustard seed are incidental.  One might of course speculate as above to a secondary feature, such as the birds representing “nations that seek the kingdom of God.”

The Leaven.  Another parable spake he unto them: The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened. Matt 13:33.

The truth taught by this parable is that when God’s government is placed in the earth it will spread until the entire world is brought under the government of the heavens. In so doing it will change the character of the whole earth. Sellers states “the parable points up the all embracing effect of God’s Spirit. Like the leaven (yeast) in the bread mix, God’s Spirit reaches out and touches everything and changes everything it touches.” (p. 27).  The timing of this parable is from the beginning of the manifest kingdom up unto the time when the restraints are lifted (see Figure 7.1).  The Lord likens Himself to a woman in this parable. It is He who starts the leavening process that spreads until the whole is leavened. 

This parable does not raise particularly pressing issues needing application of the second principle. (The “three measures of meal [Greek sata]” is interesting however, because it is an enormous amount of flour, about fifty pounds [Wenham, p. 56].)  But applying the first principle is necessary for this parable. That is because leaven (created by putting a piece of bread in a dark, dank space until it molds and stinks) often represented something bad, a symbol of corruption to the Jew of the first century.  So some interpreters attempt to make an analogy to something corrupt starting off the kingdom.  But those who try to make leaven in this parable equate to corruption have great difficulties.  Keating as one who is persuaded that leaven always means corruption can only conclude: “The kingdom is especially present and active when we are confronting what we think is monumental corruption” (p.49). 

The purpose of yeast is to take a small amount originally and end up with a large amount spread throughout the entire substance. In fact this is a very useful and good thing, regardless of its symbolism elsewhere.  Leaven in this parable obviously represents something good to be likened unto the kingdom of heaven. Applying the first principle eliminates the error of those who try to make leaven bad here just because it can stand for something bad elsewhere. 

The Treasure. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field: the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth the field. Matt. 13:44.

Sellers describes the likeness of one finding a treasure hidden in a field to the joy of one finding the kingdom of God and giving up everything he has to possess it.

[When people become aware of the true nature of heaven’s government,] they will gladly surrender every right, privilege, and liberty in order to come under this government. Heaven’s government to them will be like a treasure hidden in a field. Once they have found it, they will give up all to possess it. (Sellers, “The Secrets of the Kingdom of the Heavens,” p.21-22.)

This parable applies to the motivation of people at the very beginning of the kingdom. After they have discovered it and appreciated its value, they will do whatever is necessary to secure it for life.

The finding of the treasure raises a number of curious side issues. 

1. The person who found the treasure did so by accident.  Obviously the field where he found it was not his since he bought it later. Could he presume it belonged to the owner of the field? If so why did he do something that seemed dishonest, that is, hide it, rather than telling the owner? If such an issue is pursued as having any bearing on the parable, one could question the integrity of the treasure finder. 

2. Historically this example has precedent. Before banks, people often hid treasures in the ground, and not necessarily on land that was theirs. For any number of reasons the person may never return to claim it. There is legal precedent in England that the finder of a hidden treasure, even if not on his property is entitled to keep it as his own. This may have been true in Israel as well. If so, why did the finder not just take the treasure, rather than re-hiding it?   We might speculate that even though the finder had every right to the treasure, he was a person of great integrity and questioned his right to it until he purchased the field. 

3. One could surmise that the treasure was so large and valuable that the field was still the safest place for it.  The finder could draw from it as needed.

All this is of course speculation that does little to explain the purpose of the parable.  Jesus wanted the hearer to better comprehend that “when an individual finds, or really “sees” the kingdom of God and its great value and benefits, the realization sets in, that to possess it is worth any price” (Sellers, p. 27).

The Pearl of Great Price Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.  Matt. 13:45,46.

The central object in this parable is the pearl of great price.  This pearl stands for heaven’s government. If pearls of all types represent governments that have been tried in the past, they will find some are better than others, but they all have some flaws. Since religions and philosophies historically have usually played a strong role in systems of government, they too are part of the body of pearls. When however God’s government is available it will be unlike any pearl discovered before and be worth all that one has to offer to acquire it. This parable is much like the treasure in the field.  One difference however, is that if we consider all seekers from past history until the present time (those seekers of goodly pearls) there will be many who have found lesser and flawed pearls (other philosophies and governments). With the treasure the kingdom was already present and the man stumbled upon it. With the pearl, the man is in the business of seeking goodly pearls.  As such this may be the only historical parable. It links all those who have been seekers for better governments and religions throughout history to the manifest kingdom. And when anyone who knows pearls sees the pearl of great price, he will easily recognize its value compared to any past pearl.

The Drag Net   Again, the kingdom of God is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good unto vessels, but cast the bad away.  So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Matt. 13:47-50

This parable is similar to the wheat and the tares, with the same concept of good and bad being gathered up together, but then separated into the good and the bad, with the bad being discarded. The dragnet is the subject likened to the kingdom, but heaven’s government has never been cast into the sea, so it cannot be likened to something happening in the past or present. Also since the kingdom captures both the good and the bad before it is pulled in and the bad eliminated, it must precede the millennium. 

The last three parables were all given in private, (in the house) whereas the first three were public.  Of these latter three, two are very positive showing the desirability of the kingdom for most people and how they would want to be a part of it. The last parable however warns that the kingdom is not desirable to those who choose to be wicked and it is only God’s restraints rather then their character that allows them to flourish in the kingdom. This indicates that there is a certain element of free will even in the kingdom.

Four Great Days

Once we come to appreciate that there are distinct dispensations that make up the kingdom process, we begin to find that the Bible provides ways of identifying and classifying dispensations with specific names. One of these is with the term “day.”  There are four distinct periods of history beginning with Noah and ending with the last chapters of Revelation that are marked as days. (See Figure C.1). A full discussion of the four great days is provided by Sellers, (Seed and Bread, Vol. I, No. 54). The first is man’s day. This began with the government set up with Noah, where nations rule themselves in accord with God’s first covenant with mankind. God promised Noah, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake,” and “never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood.” (Gen 8:21, 9:11). Man was to “be fruitful and multiply,” (9:1, 7) and man’s government started with his responsibility to dispense justice for murder. “Whosoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed” (9:5-6).  Man’s day culminates with the present period of the dispensation of grace. During man’s day people judge people; but during the kingdom, God will judge. Note how Paul prefers to wait for God’s justice.  He writes, “It is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court, … but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the heart (I Cor 4:3-5).

Except for the brief period of the Acts, when heaven’s rule began, man’s day has been uninterrupted by God.  The other three days are yet future.

The second day is the day of Christ.  Identified in Paul’s letter to the Philippians Christ’s day is the pre-advent kingdom of God. “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense until the day of Christ” (Phil 1:9-10). (Note the KJV translates II Thess. 2:2 as the day of Christ, but this varies from the Greek textual sources that read the day of the Lord.)

The third day is the day of the Lord. This is the day that John found himself projected into as he experienced his visions. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” (Rev. 1:10). The visions that follow in Revelation are all from the perspective of the day of the Lord. Daniel’s seventieth week (Daniel 9:27), the seven seals opened, (Rev 6:1-17, 8:1), and the seven trumpets sounding, (Rev. 8:2; 11:15) all occur before Christ returns. But the day of the Lord actually starts before these prophetic events. The day of the Lord begins when God lifts his restraints at the end of the manifest kingdom (II Thess. 2:6,7). That God’s destruction is to be feared and shall come with the day of the Lord was part of the prophecy of Joel (1:15 – 2:11), but Paul warns the brethren not to be deceived, for many things are to happen before the destructive part of the day of the Lord, including “a falling away,” and revealing of “the man of sin” (II Thess. 2: 2-3). The parousia of Jesus Christ (I Thess. 4:16) marks the beginning of seven vials of wrath poured out (Rev 16:1-17), the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:14-16), and the sheep and goat judgment (Math 25:31-46). However, once the purging and destruction begins it will be over quickly; possibly within a period of 75 days (Dan 12:11-12). The major portion of the day of the Lord is devoted to the 1000 years reign of Jesus Christ (Rev 20:4).

The fourth day is the day of God. It follows the millennium and is the new heavens and new earth. The entire description of the day of God is captured in two places in the Bible, II Peter 13: 12-13 and Revelation 21:1-22:7.  From Peter we read “Hoping for and hurrying in the actual presence of the day of God, because of which the heavens, being on fire, will be dissolved, and the elements will be decomposed with fervent heat. Yet, we, according to His promises are hoping for a new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness.” In Revelation we find “it is the day when the tabernacle of God will be with men.” God will no longer be in heaven but on earth where the center of His activities will make earth “the mediatorial planet to the rest of the universe.” (Sellers, No. 54.)

Other Titles for the Kingdom of God

The most frequent titles for the kingdom of God are “the kingdom of God,” and “the kingdom of the heavens.”  The kingdom of the heavens only appears however in Matthew, where heaven is substituted for God.  The “day of Christ” only appears in Philippians.  Besides these three titles there are twelve others found in scripture.  Summarized, paraphrased, and elaborated on below, these are all identified and described in Sellers, Seed and Bread, Vol. I, no. 55.

1. The regeneration.  This title is found in Matt. 19:28 where Jesus says to the disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you, that when in the regeneration when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”   Translated from the Greek palingenesia regeneration speaks of the restoration of the creation to its pristine state. This reflects on the entire re-creation of the physical and social order under God’s government.

2. The times of refreshing.  Found in Acts 3:19, as part of Peter’s message to the people gathered around Solomon’s Portico after he had healed the lame man he urges them to “Repent … and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, and the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”  Literally from the Greek, this may be translated “times of coolness from the face of the Lord.”  “From the face” is an idiom that means directly from Him, and coolness has a special meaning to desert people to be likened to the hot winds of sin and death.

3. The times of restoration.  In Peter’s same message, Acts 3:21, he adds referring to Jesus, “whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.”  This refers to the statement of Jesus when He declared, “Elijah truly shall come first and restore all things” (Matt 17:11).  

4. The last days.  This title is found in both the old and new testaments.  In Isa. 2:2 and Micah 4:1, the Hebrew word translated “the last days” is acharith that carries the idea of latter end, sequel, or result. In Acts 2:17, Peter quotes Joel 2:28 and uses the title “the last days” rather than “afterward” found in Joel’s prophecy. The idea of the kingdom being result of God’s previous works is reflected in all four occurrences. For example, Micah 4:1 reads “But in the last days it shall come to pass” which is followed by a description of the conditions and blessings that paint the picture of Israel and the nations under God’s government. Sellers explains: “The kingdom of God will be the result of all that God has done preceding the divine assumption of sovereignty.”  He also reminds us that this is not the same last days as described in 2 Tim. 3.1.

5. The last day.  John uses this title six times in his gospel, and is the only writer to do so in the New Testament. These are John 6:39,40,44,54, 11:24, and 12:48. John’s verses promise resurrection and judgment of individuals in the last day, but Sellers urges that the truth behind this title is “that the kingdom is Israel’s final day, there being no night following once this day comes.” This is what is indicated in the Old Testament as being a glorious day with no end where the Lord will be their everlasting light (Isa: 60:19,20).

6. The day.  Paul uses this title in Rom. 13.12.  “The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armor of light.”   The coming of the day period of the kingdom is contrasted with the night period of the kingdom, which was the “blade and ear stages” of the Acts period.

7. The day of judgment.   In Matthew 12:18-21 Jesus quotes Isaiah regarding the fact that “He will not fail nor be discouraged til He has established justice in the earth” (Isa. 42:4).  Jesus claims that He will show judgment to the nations and that this will result in the nations trusting in Him.  When this is accomplished, it will then be the day of judgment. In Matthew 12:36-37 Jesus shows what he means with an example. “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.”  Sellers argues that it is not our idle words now, we must account for, but those idle words made by people living then, during the kingdom, after they have had instruction.

8. The judgment.  Luke 11:31,32 uses this title predicting that the Queen of Sheba and the men of Nineveh would “rise up in the judgment” and condemn evil.  An important characteristic of the kingdom is judgment so Luke uses it as a title for this period of time.

9. The resurrection. Another important characteristic of the kingdom is the orderly resurrection of the dead.  The Sadducees use this title in Matt. 22:28 and the Lord made use of it when He answered their question in Matt. 22:30.

10. The eon. This title does not appear in most versions of the New Testament, but Sellers makes the case for it being a descriptive title of the kingdom of God that is quite useful. The Greek word aion has no equivalent word in English, although it is frequently used to mean a period of time.  Sellers points out that the basic and fundamental meaning of aion is flow or outflow.  More meaning is attached to such verses that speak of “the enemy coming in like a flood,” (Isa. 59:19) or “judgment shall run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24) when we appreciate the kingdom as an eon (outflowing) from God.

11. The day of the eon.  The Greek text of 2 Peter 3:18 uses this title to show that “the kingdom will be the day of His outflowing, when He gushes forth in judgment, truth, light, and life. (Sellers, No. 55).

12. Life.  “We now live in a time when death reigns, when its influence is felt by every man, when it dominates the earthly scene.” (Sellers, No. 55).  In the gospels it is an expressive title of the kingdom of God, because it is a dominant characteristic of it. “If you will enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17).  “Because narrow is the gate and hard is the way which leads to life,and there are few who find it” Matt 7:14).   And in John 3:36, Jesus warns that “he who believes not the Son shall not see life.”

Figure C-1




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