1. Why are Jesus’ parables of interest to all who serve God?
WHILE he was with his disciples, Jesus spoke many parables, or illustrations. These show what is involved in membership in the kingdom of the heavens. They indicate what course must be taken by the “little flock” of Kingdom heirs, and also by those who will gain everlasting life on earth under that kingdom. These “other sheep,” too, rejoice to know about the prophecies concerning the Kingdom, and they pray fervently for it to ‘come.’—Luke 12:32; John 10:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-20.
2, 3. (a) Why did Jesus use illustrations? (b) Why did others besides his disciples fail to understand? (c) Unlike those described at Matthew 13:13-15, why should we diligently study God’s Word?
2 After he had related one of these parables to the people, Jesus’ disciples came to him and asked: “Why is it you speak to them by the use of illustrations?” In reply, Jesus said:
“To you it is granted to understand the sacred secrets of the kingdom of the heavens, but to those people it is not granted.” (Matthew 13:10, 11)
And why not? It was because they were not willing to dig down and get the deeper meaning of his words, so that their hearts would motivate them to action in behalf of the “good news.” They did not regard the Kingdom as “treasure” or a “pearl of high value.”—Matthew 13:44-46.
3 Jesus quoted the prophecy of Isaiah as having fulfillment in those unbelievers, saying: “By hearing, you will hear but by no means get the sense of it; and, looking, you will look but by no means see. For the heart of this people has grown unreceptive, and with their ears they have heard without response, and they have shut their eyes; that they might never see with their eyes and hear with their ears and get the sense of it with their hearts and turn back, and I heal them.” (Matthew 13:13-15) We should want to avoid being like those unappreciative people. Let us, then, apply ourselves to the study of God’s Word.
4. (a) What types of hearts fail to profit from the word? (b) How may we be blessed if we strive to get the sense of the word?
4 In his parable introduced at Matthew chapter 13:3-8, Jesus describes himself as “a sower” of seed. He sows “the word of the kingdom” in different kinds of hearts. Some persons’ hearts are like roadside soil. Before the seed can take root, the Devil sends his henchmen like “birds” to pluck “the word away from their hearts in order that they may not believe and be saved.” Other hearts are like rocky soil. At first, they accept the word with joy, but then the tender plant withers under trial or persecution. Some seed falls among “thorns,” where it is choked out by “anxieties and riches and pleasures of this life.” Ah, but there is also the “seed” sown upon the right kind of soil!
“This is the one hearing the word and getting the sense of it, who really does bear fruit and produces, this one a hundredfold, that one sixty, the other thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23; Mark 4:3-9, 14-20; Luke 8:4-8, 11-15)
Yes, we will be blessed and our sacred service to our God will become really fruitful if we receive the word into appreciative hearts and expend ourselves in behalf of God’s kingdom!
5. (a) To what other illustration are we now encouraged to pay attention? (b) Why could this “man” not be the Lord Jesus?
5 Alone of the Gospels, Mark’s account follows up this parable of the “sower” with an illustration involving a different “sower.” Just before giving this illustration, Jesus told his disciples in private: “Pay attention to what you are hearing.” Then he tied in the parable, saying:
“In this way the kingdom of God is just as when a man casts the seed upon the ground, and he sleeps at night and rises up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows tall, just how he does not know.” (Mark 4:24-27)
Obviously, this “man” is not the glorified Lord Jesus Christ, for the latter no longer needs an earthly night’s sleep. Nor would it be correct to say that the Son of God, who worked with his Father in creating all things, “does not know” how growth takes place. (Colossians 1:16) So in the context we can appreciate that the “man” has reference to the individual Christian who should be ‘paying attention’ to matters related to “the kingdom of God.”
6. What two things should each “sower” watch, and why?
6 Each “sower” should watch with what personality traits he is sowing, and also the environment in which he sows. Without our being aware of it, the development of our personality may be influenced for good or for bad, according to the “ground” or kind of people among whom we associate as we seek to develop Christian qualities—be that inside or outside the congregation. (Compare 1 Corinthians 15:33.) Finally, “the full grain” will appear in the head, and we will harvest accordingly. (Mark 4:28, 29) How important that those of the “little flock,” and indeed all who reach out for everlasting life in God’s Kingdom arrangement, watch what and where they sow with regard to the developing of Christlike personalities!—Ephesians 4:17-24; Galatians 6:7-9.
A COUNTERFEIT KINGDOM
7. How do the various parables help us to view the Kingdom?
7 Mark’s account describes Jesus as going on to say:
“With what are we to liken the kingdom of God, or in what illustration shall we set it out?” (Mark 4:30)
Then he invites us to look at the Kingdom in a different setting. Indeed, these illustrations help us to view the Kingdom from various standpoints, just as we might inspect a building on the outside and on the inside, and from a number of different angles.
8. (a) Why could not the phenomenal growth from the mustard grain have reference to the Kingdom heirs? (b) Why does this logically fit Christendom’s “kingdom”? (c) How does God’s description of apostate Israel support this view?
8 So to what should we liken the kingdom of God? Jesus answers:
“Like a mustard grain, which at the time it was sown in the ground was the tiniest of all the seeds that are on the earth—but when it has been sown, it comes up and becomes greater than all other vegetables and produces great branches, so that the birds of heaven are able to find lodging under its shadow.” (Mark 4:30-32)
A phenomenal growth this—and surely, to something far more expansive than the “little flock” of 144,000 Kingdom heirs, to whom ‘the Father has approved of giving the kingdom’! (Luke 12:32; Revelation 14:1, 3) Rather, it is the growth of the great counterfeit “tree” of Christendom as an apostasy from the congregation that Jesus had planted. (Luke 13:18, 19) It is huge! It boasts more than 900,000,000 members worldwide, for whom it claims a destiny in the heavens. This apostate kingdom was foreshadowed long ago by backsliding Israel, of which Jehovah said: “I had planted you as a choice red vine, all of it a true seed. So how have you been changed toward me into the degenerate shoots of a foreign vine?”—Jeremiah 2:21-23; see also Hosea 10:1-4.
9 According to Matthew’s description of this “tree,” “the birds of heaven come and find lodging among its branches.” Apparently, they are the same “birds” of the earlier parable that gobble up the “word of the kingdom” that falls by the roadside. (Matthew 13:4, 19, 31, 32) Those “birds” roost in the hundreds of sectarian branches of the “tree.” They represent the apostate “man of lawlessness,” the clergy of Christendom. They will lose their sheltered perch when God chops down that “tree,” along with all other false religion. Stand clear, now! For the crash of that “tree” is imminent!—Compare 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9; 2:3; Matthew 7:19-23.
10, 11. (a) In what contexts do Matthew and Luke present the parable of the “mustard grain,” and why appropriately so? (b) What admonition and warning does the Kingdom parable of the leaven provide for us?
10 Appropriately, Luke presents the parable of the “mustard grain” as a follow-up to Jesus’ denunciation of the apostate religionists of his day. And as if to emphasize the point, both Matthew and Luke next portray Jesus as giving the parable of the “leaven.” (Matthew 13:32, 33; Luke 13:10-21) When used figuratively in the Bible, leaven always has an unfavorable connotation, as when Jesus warned his disciples to “watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” and when the apostle Paul counseled Christians to clear away the “leaven of badness and wickedness.”—Matthew 16:6, 11, 12; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Galatians 5:7-9.
11 In the illustration, a feature in connection with “the kingdom of the heavens” is said to be like leaven that a woman hides in three measures of flour. So the whole mass of flour becomes fermented. This pictures the stealthy corrupting of the professed Christian congregation with false Babylonish teaching and practice, resulting in the massive structure of Christendom’s counterfeit kingdom. This should serve as a warning for us. Viewing the sorry result of apostasy in Christendom, the “little flock” of Kingdom heirs and their companions today should beware that the “leaven” of false, deceptive teachings is never permitted to contaminate their heartfelt appreciation of the purity and truth of the “word of the kingdom.”
THE SOWER AND HIS “ENEMY”
12, 13. (a) In the parable of the “wheat” and the “weeds,” how does Jesus identify the principals? (b) What is the harvest, and what evidence do we see that it is taking place today?
12 In another illustration Jesus likens “the kingdom of the heavens” to “a man that sowed fine seed in his field.” Then, “while men were sleeping, his enemy came and oversowed weeds in among the wheat, and left.” What kind of fruitage could be expected from that field? Jesus went on to identify this sower as himself, “the Son of man,” the sowing of whose Kingdom seed results in fruitage of wheatlike Christians, “the sons of the kingdom.” The enemy is “the Devil,” and the “weeds” are “the sons of the wicked one”—his hypocritical religious “seed.” (Compare Genesis 3:15.) In fulfillment, some true Christians kept growing up among the conglomeration of “weeds” that have marked the great apostasy from the first century onward. But now in our 20th century, we have come to the time for harvest—“a conclusion of a system of things, and the reapers are angels”!—Matthew 13:24-30, 36-39.
13 At last, under angelic direction, the “wheat” is separated from the “weeds.” The clear distinction between the two has been made manifest. As we shall see, the evidence abounds that “the Son of man” is today present in his heavenly kingdom, gathering wheatlike true Christians to Kingdom activity. But what of Christendom and its teachers of apostasy? Jesus’ parable goes on to say:
“The Son of man will send forth his angels, and they will collect out from his kingdom all things that cause stumbling and persons who are doing lawlessness.”
For centuries the clergy of Christendom have stumbled honest persons with their false doctrines and outward show of piety. But they have come under God’s judgment, and are ‘weeping and gnashing their teeth.’ Today they bemoan diminishing support by the laity and division in their own ranks. In contrast, Jehovah’s wheatlike servants are witnessing joyfully concerning his kingdom. They are shining “as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”—Matthew 13:40-43; compare Isaiah 65:13, 14.
A SUCCESSFUL ‘FISHING’ PROJECT
14, 15. (a) How did Jesus start a great ‘fishing’ project, but what other kinds of ‘fishing’ have gone on since then, and with what ‘catches’? (b) What part do the angels then play, and how do they dispose of the “fish”? (c) For what opportunity should we therefore be thankful?
14 “Again,” says Jesus, “the kingdom of the heavens is like a dragnet let down into the sea and gathering up fish of every kind.” (Matthew 13:47) Jesus started this ‘fishing’ project himself, when he called his first disciples from their nets in order to make them “fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) But during the great apostasy, under angelic surveillance faithful minority groups and Christendom’s religions have continued to ‘fish’ for converts. However, have all of the hundreds of millions of symbolic sea creatures turned out to be ‘good fish’? As we have noted, Christendom’s religions have based their teachings on the Greek philosophy of Plato, and on the “mysteries” of ancient Babylon. Their fruitage is seen in the hatreds, strife and bloodshed that have spotted the pages of Christendom’s history, and in their support of the world wars of our 20th century.
15 At last, “in the conclusion of the system of things,” it is time for the angels to haul in the “dragnet.” This symbolizes the organizations on earth of those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ—the true and the false. Those “fish” found to be “unsuitable” for “the kingdom of the heavens” must be thrown away, cast into “the fiery furnace” of destruction. “There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be.” (Matthew 13:48-50) But the angels are also separating ‘good fish’ out from the symbolic dragnet. How thankful we should be for our opportunity of being counted along with these—a distinct people dedicated to magnifying Jehovah’s name and who pray meaningfully for his kingdom to “come”!
16. This last parable gives rise to what questions, and why should we be interested in finding the answers?
16 However, what is “the conclusion of the system of things,” concerning which Jesus speaks so forcefully in this last parable? What are “the last days,” concerning which several of Jesus’ disciples wrote? Are we now living in those days? If so, what does this mean for us, and for all mankind?
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GIVE HEED TO JESUS’ KINGDOM ILLUSTRATIONS!
● These describe the Kingdom as desirable, like a “treasure” or “pearl.” Those seeking it are likened to “the right kind of soil,” “wheat,” “good fish.”
● The counterfeit kingdom is portrayed as a mustard “tree” with many branches, a leavened mass of flour. Its supporters are the “birds,” “weeds,” ‘unsuitable fish.’
● Looking at the Kingdom’s development from various angles, we are better able to understand the great issue before mankind today, and are encouraged to take a firm and loyal stand for the Kingdom.