17 July 2011

"The kingdom of heaven is like ..." (v. 31)


In chapter 13, Matthew gathered a collection of the parables of Jesus. In this passage there are three parables. Each is a parable of the kingdom, introduced by the phrase "the kingdom of heaven is like ..." or "may be compared to ...".

The key note of the teaching of Jesus in Matthew's Gospel was "the kingdom of heaven", in Mark termed "the kingdom of God" (egMark 4:26). Matthew chose his expression (literally, 'the kingdom of the heavens') out of respect to his original Jewish-Christian readers who would seek to avoid using the term "God" in a direct way.

The expression "the kingdom of heaven" referred to the rule or reign of God. This was not a reference to a geographical territory, such as in the expression 'the kingdom of Jordan', but rather to that time and circumstance when God's will was done, as in the Lord's Prayer, "your kingdom come".

It was typical of the teaching of Jesus to come at significant matters in rather a sideways manner. He did not give a definition of God's rule, but offered illustrations and likenesses. A parable was ideal for this: "the kingdom of heaven is like". In this passage we have three images of life in the kingdom, each drawing upon an ordinary activity well known to the original hearer.

For example, every farmer was acquainted with the problem of what to do with weeds. The farmer could either hoe the ground to eradicate the weeds or leave both wheat and weed to grow together until the harvest. Jesus described the latter because he wanted to illustrate that the coming of the fullness of the kingdom involved judgement.

The second parable illustrates a different aspect of the kingdom, namely its great potential. The small seed grows into a large shrub. This was an encouragement to small groups of people.

The third parable illustrates a further aspect of the kingdom, not only 'small to large' as with the seed, but also the ability to influence and change. Every woman knew the function of yeast in the baking of bread.

To Ponder

What everyday images would you use today to illustrate to a friend what you meant by God's rule?

What does the use of the 'growing' images suggest to you about the kingdom of God and your church?

Bible notes author: The Revd Dr David Calvert

  • Sign up for e-newslettersKeep in touch with what interests you