Bibliotheca Sacra 156 (October-December 1999) 443-51.
Copyright © 1999 by
THE DOCTRINE OF THE
KINGDOM IN MATTHEW 13*
Mark L. Bailey
The message of the kingdom, preached by John, Jesus, and
the disciples, included both the need for repentance and the
announcement of the imminent coming of the kingdom. The
former prepares individuals for the latter. Whereas in Luke 8:11
the message is called "the word of God," Matthew appropriately
referred to it as "the word of the kingdom" (Matt. 13:19), that is,
the good news of the kingdom. While the message of the kingdom
cannot be limited to the gospel, it must at least include it, as the
various gospel contexts affirm. The good news is that God acted
in Jesus Christ to provide redemption for humanity and to defeat
all who would stand in the way of His being recognized as King.
RECEPTION OF THE WORD
The reception of "the word of the kingdom" produces varying de-
grees of growth in the lives of those who hear it. Maximum recep-
tion with a good and honest heart is shown to be God's goal for ev-
ery hearer of the Word of God (13:23). The right response to the
message includes hearing, understanding, and doing (v. 23).
Obedience is a critical concern in several of Matthew's kingdom
parables. The blessing of God is seen in the fruitfulness of one's
life. The degree of fruitfulness is not the same even among those
responding rightly to the message of the kingdom. Each individ-
ual is unique in his or her heart response and understanding,
and so the extent of fruitfulness also varies. That not all grow at
the same rate is an encouragement not to judge one person by the
benchmark of another. The differing rates of growth are also a
Mark L. Bailey is Vice President for Academic Affairs, Academic Dean, and Pro-
of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary,
*This is the final article in an eight-part series, "The Kingdom in the Parables of
444 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October—December 1999
growth are also a warning that failure to produce fruit may indi-
cate a problem in discipleship commitment that needs to be ad-
dressed. Hearing, understanding, obedience, and a commitment
that holds fast even under pressure are prerequisites for maxi-
mum fruitfulness. Receptivity enhances productivity.
REJECTION OF THE WORD
Those who preach or teach the message of the kingdom need to re-
alize that not all will respond as they ought. Three obstacles to the
effective appropriation of the message of the kingdom include
satanic activity, external pressures from those unsympathetic to
God's purposes, and the lack of internal spirituality within the
hearers themselves (in which worry, the desire for riches, and be-
ing overly attached to this present world keep the Word of God
from producing His desired results, vv. 19-22). The first obstacle
is Satan, who seeks to snatch the word of the kingdom from the
hearts of those who hear it but have not yet responded to it. The sec-
ond obstacle is affliction and persecution from others when ini-
tial interest has been shown by a prospective hearer. The third
distraction is personal desires that can choke out any possibility
of a fruitful response. "The main aim of the parables is to de-
scribe the activity of God in Jesus, more particularly so that men
may trust in it and become disciples, or else be offended at it."1
OPPOSITION TO THE WORD OF GOD
Two spiritual leaders are revealed in Matthew 13 as competing
for influence in the world: the Son of Man and Satan. The devil,
as the enemy (vv. 25, 28, 39) of Christ and believers, uses various
strategies in seeking to carry out his objectives. One is to snatch
away the word of the kingdom from those who have not yet ade-
quately welcomed it, in order to keep it from taking root and pro-
ducing fruit in people's lives. Another strategy of the enemy of the
Son of Man is placing his "sons" (tares) into the world to mas-
querade as sons of the kingdom. This counterfeiting activity in-
troduces into the world a hypocritical substitution of "sons of the
evil one" to imitate those who are the real "sons of the kingdom"
(v. 38). Thus the righteous and the wicked are defined by their
family relationship. Each person is either a son of the kingdom
that belongs to God or a son of the devil, whose desire is to deceive
and to destroy God's work. The fact that it is often difficult to dis-
1 John J. Vincent, Secular Christ (Nashville: Abingdon, 1968), 113.
The Doctrine of the Kingdom in Matthew 13 445
tinguish the sons of the evil one from the sons of the kingdom sup-
ports the fact of satanic deceitfulness mentioned throughout
Scripture. Such masquerading religiosity has always been one of
the enemy's tactics. A third strategy of Satanic opposition is more
subtle. Some individuals are classified as "stumbling blocks" (v.
41). These will be judged at the end of the age along with the rest of
the wicked. Therefore the kingdom is under attack by Satan and
those he uses as his representatives.
In spite of this hostility the kingdom of heaven will survive
and succeed. The judgment at the end of the age will reveal the
true identity of those wicked individuals who are allied with Sa-
tan and his attempts to frustrate God's kingdom purposes. A pro-
fessed allegiance or a superficial response is inadequate for a re-
lationship with Christ and participation in His kingdom.
THE TIMING OF THE KINGDOM
The parables of Matthew 13 reveal three phases of the kingdom.
The aorist tense of several verbs in the parable of the tares (vv.
24–28) suggests a previous history for the kingdom. This would
pertain to the revelation and development of God's kingdom
purposes in the Old Testament. The parable of the tares also
speaks of a future phase of the kingdom referred to as "His [i.e.,
Christ's] kingdom" (v. 41) and "the kingdom of their Father" (v.
43), referents to the Messiah's future earthly reign. By far the
most dominant phase of the kingdom in these parables is the
present interadvent age. This period is portrayed as having a
beginning (planting), phenomenal growth and extension, and a
culminating judgment. This present phase began with the min-
istry of Jesus and His disciples. Jesus is seen as having an active
and personal role in the planting phase of the kingdom (vv. 3–4).
This will be an extended period of time leading to the end of the
age with its climactic events.
What began with hardly any perceptible presence will reach
a level of international proportions. The world continues in this
era to be the stage for conflict between Satan and the Son of Man
and between those they strategically place in the world to carry on
their influence and purposes. The present ("mystery") form of the
kingdom is broader than but includes the church age. At the cul-
mination of this interadvent phase of God's kingdom angels will
accompany Jesus and will separate (vv. 39, 41, 49) the wicked
from the righteous. The righteous then will shine as the sun in the
Lord's kingdom (v. 43).
446 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October—December 1999
THE KINGDOM AS A PRESENT REALITY
The parables in Matthew 13 focus on the phase of God's kingdom
that extends from the time of
in His earthly ministry to the time of judgment at His second
coming. Both the beginning (planting) and expansion (growth) of
the interadvent phase of the kingdom are noted. The world is
portrayed as the stage for the ongoing conflict between the work of
the Son of Man and Satan, between the sons of the kingdom and
the sons of the evil one. The various responses to the kingdom
message and the continuing conflict of the kingdom messengers
(sons of the kingdom) in the first two parables are portrayed as
initial stages that will progress to the time of harvest.
The mustard seed and the leavening process depict the suc-
cessful growth of the kingdom in the present age. While not in-
tended necessarily to trace the growth itself, the small beginning
and extensive expansion to the end argue for an indefinite period
of time between these two points. These parables signal coming
for those of
sus. These parables also encourage believers to remember that
what God is doing during the present phase of the kingdom will
enjoy a successful growth. And, in contrast to what was thought by
to be only a Jewish hope, the
age, starting with almost imperceptible beginnings, will survive
and even expand to international proportions, bringing light to
the nations before the end of the age.
What Jesus is doing in the present age is consistent with what
God has designed for the future phase of the kingdom. This in-
cludes the international ministry to the Gentiles and their partic-
through which God works in each age differ, they all emphasize
His concern for the world. The humble beginning and seemingly
small results in Jesus' ministry are not inconsistent with the fu-
manifestation of the
worldwide sovereignty will be recognized and consummated.
The growth of the kingdom in its interadvent phase does not
result from external religious activity. Instead the growth comes
by means of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He is the invisible yet
effective Agent of transforming growth.
THE SONS OF THE KINGDOM
The people placed by the Son of Man in the world to represent Him
are called the sons of the kingdom. The citizens (sons) of the
kingdom may seem indistinguishable from those who are not
The Doctrine of the Kingdom in Matthew 13 447
sons of the kingdom. However, as sons of the kingdom they are
related to Christ as God's children by means of their obedient
faith. The metaphor of wheat shows them to be the desired harvest
from the earth. They are contrasted with the sons of the evil one
who, pictured by the tares, will be rejected by the Son of Man when
He returns to earth.
The Lord's servants are to resist the temptation to prejudge the
people of this world, for two reasons. One is the danger of mistak-
ing the character of those being evaluated (v. 29), and another is
that the right of judgment is reserved for the Son of Man. He alone
has the ability to discern the true character of those He will judge.
DISCIPLESHIP AND THE KINGDOM
Since Jesus interpreted the first two and the last four parables for
the disciples in private, it follows that these parables suggest prin-
ciples by which the disciples should live and minister. The disci-
ples are presented in Matthew as the privileged recipients of the
mysteries, since they are credited with a responsive heart of un-
derstanding (vv. 11-12, 51). Fruitfulness results from such a re-
sponse. Implied also is the ongoing need to have an honest heart if
future insight and fruitfulness are to be realized.
Disciples are prohibited from being the agents of judgment
during the present phase of the kingdom (v. 30). As stated earlier,
the reasons are that they would be prone to misjudge because of
their inability to distinguish the sons of the kingdom from the
sons of the evil one, and the role of judge has been delegated to the
Son of Man along with his "collection agents," the angels.
The disciples can be confident that though the kingdom with
which they aligned themselves may have a small beginning, its
future will be glorious and international through the powerful
ministry of the Holy Spirit. What may seem invisible in its be-
ginnings and even in its process and progress will have dra-
matic results in God's timing.
Those who are disciples of Jesus and His kingdom must be
prepared to give up everything that would stand in the way of
commitment to the priority of the
as emphasized in the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl
merchant. Whether one realizes its value or not, whether one was
looking for it or not (vv. 44-46), the kingdom is so valuable it is
worth giving up all for it. These are reasons for participating in.
the kingdom; it is valuable, and its benefits bring joy. Therefore
whatever is given up for the pursuit of the kingdom is not really a
loss. God's kingdom should be the highest priority in one's life.
The theme of total commitment for those who would be disciples of
448 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October—December 1999
the kingdom is a well-recognized theme in the Synoptic Gospels.
The mission of the kingdom includes both evangelism and edifi-
cation, both worldwide proclamation and comprehensive teach-
ing. The international mission of the kingdom has been de-
signed to reach people of "every kind" (v. 47), that is, people of ev-
ery tribe, tongue, and nation. The disciples of the kingdom are to
invite everyone to come in. Separation of the good from the bad
(the righteous from the wicked) will be the future responsibility of
the Son of Man and His angels (vv. 41, 49-50).
Teaching both the new and old truths of the kingdom is the
burden of the final parable in verses 51-52. Referring to the
"new" before mentioning the "old" places the focus on the myster-
ies of the kingdom—the parables of this chapter and probably the
others Jesus taught in His ministry. The "old" would include
what had already been communicated in the Old Testament about
the kingdom and its future fulfillment.
THE JUDGMENT AT THE END OF THE AGE
The judgment that will separate the wicked from the righteous
will not occur until the end of the age. This final judgment is de-
picted by the images of harvesttime and the close of a fishing day
(vv. 30, 48-50). This judgment will divide humanity, not along
or religious lines as supposed by many of
but according to the character of people's lives, which will reveal
their relationship and response to Jesus. The wicked will be con-
fined to eternal punishment and the righteous will remain to
enter into the kingdom of the Father (vv. 41-43, 49-50).
The agents of that judgment are said to be the angels, while
the Son of Man is portrayed as the Judge who has the right to deter-
mine the destiny of both the righteous and the wicked. The puni-
tive judgment is said to include all who are stumbling blocks and
all who are guilty of wickedness (v. 41). This speaks not only of
their personal character but also of their negative influence on
others. Those so judged will experience weeping and gnashing of
teeth (vv. 42, 50), which connotes the anguish and anger the con-
demned will experience in their eternal separation from God.
The righteous, on the other hand, will enjoy the kingdom of the
Father (v. 43), sharing in His glory.
The parables clearly support a premillennial perspective on
eschatology. After the judgment at the end of the age the righteous
will become a community of believers who are said to be like light
The Doctrine of the Kingdom in Matthew 13 449
in the kingdom of the Father (v. 43). The judgment that de-
termines who will enter this future phase of the kingdom will
take place on earth; no translation of saints to heaven is men-
tioned in Matthew 13. Therefore the future phase of the kingdom
must also be on earth, and will follow the judgment of the wicked
and the righteous that will occur when the Son of Man returns to
THE SELF-UNDERSTANDING OF JESUS
AS KING OF THE KINGDOM
One of the most controversial subjects in the study of the Gospels
pertains to Jesus' self-understanding. Therefore it is only natu-
ral to ask what the parables of Matthew 13 contribute to that sub-
ject. Jesus' boldness in teaching about His right to share the
privileges of God argues strongly for His deity as well as His
right to rule as the messianic King.2 The parables themselves
contain some of the boldest references by Jesus about Himself.
As Blomberg observes, "Never did such individuals [other
prophets or spokesmen of God] apply symbols for God to them-
selves so consistently as did Jesus, and none ever claimed that he
was doing precisely what the Scriptures said God himself would
do. Yet in the parables Jesus claims to forgive sin, usher in the
kingdom, sow his word in human hearts, graciously welcome
undeserving sinners into God's presence, seek out and rescue his
lost sheep, oversee the final judgment, and distinguish those who
will and those who will not enter the kingdom."3
In the parable of the tares Jesus is identified as "the Son of
Man" (vv. 37, 41). This title speaks of His humanity and deity in
His incarnation, earthly ministry, and coming judgment. This
title is loaded with implications for the kingdom.4 Jesus has the
authority to send angels to gather humanity for the great separa-
tion at the end of the age. He is not indifferent to the evil that ex-
ists in the world, as a delay of judgment might lead some to con-
clude. As the One who can give directions to the angels and who
will preside over the judgment, only Jesus has the authority to
judge. As seen in the parable of the tares, even the servants of the
Son of Man are not allowed to judge (vv. 29-30). The fact that the
2 For an extended discussion of this observation see Philip Barton Payne, "Jesus"
Implicit Claim to Deity in His Parables," Trinity Journal 2 (Winter 1981): 2-23.
3 Craig Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (
4 Daniel 7:13-14 especially speaks of the expectation of the coming kingdom and
the reign of the saints with the Son of Man.
450 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1999
kingdom is said to be His (v. 41) reveals He has the right to be the
King. He is the One who determines the eternal punishment for
the wicked and the entrance of the righteous into the kingdom of
the Father. In the parable of the tares Jesus is seen as present at
both the beginning of the planting process and the harvest at the
end of the age. These facts clearly show that Jesus understood that
He is the coming divine King.
Several applicational principles can be gleaned from the in-
tended appeals of the parables in Matthew 13.
1. Not everyone will respond to the message of the kingdom, and
not all who do respond are equally fruitful.
2. Satan is personally active in seeking to prevent people from re-
ceiving the message of God's kingdom.
3. Both external pressures and internal distractions hinder the
proper appropriation of the Word of God.
4. God desires that people hear, understand, and apply the truth of
His Word in order to be fruitful for Him.
5. The hearers of the Word are at least partially responsible for
the level of productivity in their lives.
6. Jesus' followers should realize that Satan sends his representa-
tives into the world to masquerade as sons of the kingdom to dis-
rupt and hinder the work of Christ.
7. Believers need to be realistic about the presence of hypocrites,
but believers should not assume the role reserved for Jesus by
seeking to judge others.
8. Servants of the Lord need to wait patiently for Jesus to judge
and separate the wicked from the righteous.
9. People should decide to be followers of Christ in light of the
impending judgment which will determine their eternal destiny.
10. God has promised the righteous a glorious future in the shared
reign of the Son and the Father in the next phase of the kingdom,
Jesus' rule on earth.
The Doctrine of the Kingdom in Matthew 13 451
11. The success of God's work cannot be fully evaluated until the
time of the judgment.
12. Messiah has come in humility and will one day reign in
13. The work of the Spirit authenticates the ministry of Jesus
14. Jesus' disciples need to depend on the invisible yet powerfully
transforming work of the Holy Spirit.
15. The kingdom of heaven should be the highest priority of any-
one who finds it.
16. No sacrifice is too great in light of the value of the kingdom.
17. The joy of participating in the kingdom should motivate Je-
sus' followers to make whatever sacrifice is necessary.
18. Discipleship calls for wholehearted dedication to God's king-
19. Participation in God's kingdom is not restricted to any single
20. Jesus places a high priority on evangelism to all classes and
21. The need to evangelize the world is motivated by the reality of
22. God's judgment will be based on inner character rather than
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