Bibliotheca Sacra 156 (October-December 1999) 443-51.

          Copyright © 1999 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.



                 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-

fessor of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.


*This is the final article in an eight-part series, "The Kingdom in the Parables of

Matthew 13."



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




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 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 parables in Matthew 13 focus on the phase of God's kingdom

program that extends from the time of Israel's rejection of Jesus

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

judgment for those of Israel who were rejecting the message of Je-

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

some to be only a Jewish hope, the kingdom of God in the present

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-

ipation in the kingdom of God. While the institutional structures

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-

ture manifestation of the kingdom of God in which His absolute

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.




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

wholehearted commitment to the priority of the kingdom of God,

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


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 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

racial or religious lines as supposed by many of Israel's leaders

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




                     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 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity,

1990), 320.

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-

dom purposes.


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

future judgment.


22. God's judgment will be based on inner character rather than

cultural backgrounds.




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