Things Which the “Kingdom of the Heavens” Is Like
“What is the kingdom of God like, and with what shall I compare it?”—Luke 13:18.
1, 2. By using illustrations in his teaching, what prophecy did Jesus fulfill?
ILLUSTRATIONS or parables were a prominent part of the teaching method of Jesus Christ nineteen centuries ago. In this way he fulfilled a Bible prophecy. Of this we are assured in the life account of Jesus Christ as written by his apostle Matthew Levi. This biographer tells us:
2 “All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds by illustrations. Indeed, without an illustration he would not speak to them; that there might be fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet who said: ‘I will open my mouth with illustrations, I will publish things hidden since the founding [of the world].’”—Matt. 13:34, 35; Ps. 78:2.
3. What might illustrations bearing on God’s kingdom be called, and how did Jesus introduce them?
3 Those illustrations or parables that specially bore on God’s Messianic kingdom might well be called Kingdom illustrations or parables. At times these were introduced with the words, “The kingdom of the heavens is like,” or, “With what are we to liken the kingdom of God?” or, “With what shall I compare the kingdom of God?”—Matt. 13:47; Mark 4:30; Luke 13:20.
4, 5. (a) How many illustrations did Jesus give, and what series of them did he give in Matthew, chapter thirteen? (b) According to Luke 13:17-21, under what circumstances did Jesus relate the illustrations of the mustard grain and the leaven?
4 Jesus is reported as giving thirty illustrations or parables. According to the thirteenth chapter 13 of Mt Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus once gave a series of seven Kingdom illustrations in close connection with one another. First was the illustration of the sower, then that of the wheat and the weeds, the mustard grain, the leaven hid in the batch of dough, the treasure hid in the field, the pearl of high value and the dragnet. (Matt. 13:1-50) The Gospel writer Luke introduces the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven in a different way, and says:
5 “Well, when he said these things, all his opposers began to feel shame; but all the crowd began to rejoice at all the glorious things done by him. Therefore he went on to say: ‘What is the kingdom of God like, and with what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard grain that a man took and put in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of heaven took up lodging in its branches.’ And again he said: ‘With what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three large measures of flour until the whole mass was fermented.’”—Luke 13:17-21.
6. Since Jesus gave the parables after the rejoicing of the people over the things done by him, what might one be inclined to think that Jesus wanted to illustrate by the parables?
6 Because “all the crowd began to rejoice at all the glorious things done by him,” one would incline to think that Jesus reacted to the rejoicing of “all the crowd” by telling two prophetic illustrations to picture how God’s kingdom would not be made up of only a “little flock,” as Jesus had indicated earlier, in Luke 12:32. Instead, it would grow to great size and all the world of mankind would be like birds by their lodging in the refuge provided by the Kingdom. Also, that the great mass of mankind would become impregnated with the true teachings of Christianity. For instance, the Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Gospel of Matthew, by H. A. W. Meyer, Th.D., English edition of 1884, says on page 259, paragraph three:
The parable of the mustard seed is designed to show that the great community, consisting of those who are to participate in the Messianic kingdom, i.e., the true people of God as constituting the body politic of the future kingdom, is destined to develop from a small beginning into a vast multitude, and therefore to grow extensively; . . . “being a small flock, they were increased into a countless one.” The parable of the leaven, on the other hand, is intended to show how the specific influences of the Messiah’s kingdom (Eph. iv.4 ff.) gradually penetrate the whole of its future subjects, till by this means the entire mass is brought intensively into that spiritual condition which qualifies it for being admitted into the kingdom.
7, 8. What serious question does Luke record after that, and what Kingdom parable of Jesus?
7 However, there is a fact that is here worth considering as significant. It is this: Right after recording those two parables of Jesus and telling how thereafter he went teaching from place to place, the Gospel writer Luke injects the question of a certain man: “Lord, are those who are being saved few?” Did Jesus’ answer seem to agree with that suggestion? Did it indicate a kingdom of a “little flock”?—Luke 13:22, 23.
8 Listen: “He said to them: ‘Exert yourselves vigorously to get in through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will seek to get in but will not be able, when once the householder has got up and locked the door, and you start to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Sir, open to us.” But in answer he will say to you, “I do not know where you are from.” Then you will start saying, “We ate and drank in front of you, and you taught in our broad ways.” But he will speak and say to you, “I do not know where you are from. Get away from me, all you workers of unrighteousness!” There is where your weeping and the gnashing of your teeth will be, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves thrown outside.’” (Luke 13:23-28) So, as many as do get in through the “narrow door” will have to ‘exert themselves vigorously.’—Note also Luke 13:5-9.
9. In a contribution to the Watch Tower issue of April 1881, how did J. H. Paton explain the parable of the leaven?
9 Back in the issue of Zion’s Watch Tower dated April 1881, on page 5, there appeared a contribution by J. H. Paton, on the parable of the leaven. In the course of his discussion he said:
This work of progression and glorious success, seems to be illustrated by the Saviour’s parable, in which He compared the kingdom of heaven to leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal until the whole was leavened. Matt. 13:33. A very plausible and we will add, forcible objection to this application of the parable, is based on the fact that leaven of bread and of doctrine are spoken of in the Bible as elements of impurity and of corruption. Would the Saviour represent the kingdom of heaven by an element and process of corruption? We understand the Saviour here uses one feature of the leaven only, in His illustration, that is its permeating power. It does not cease until the work is done, so God’s kingdom will not cease its operations until the curse is removed.
10. How did the Watch Tower issue of May 15, 1900, comment on the parable of the leaven?
10 However, Zion’s Watch Tower, under date of May 15, 1900, page 154, took exception to that view. Under the subheading “The Parable of the Leaven,” it said: “Leaven represents corruption throughout the Scriptures: In every other instance of its Scriptural use it is represented as an evil, an impurity, something that is defiling. . . . It would not seem reasonable that our Lord should use the word leaven here as Christian people generally suppose, in a good sense, as implying some grace of the holy spirit. On the contrary, we recognize consistency in all of his teachings, and we may be as sure that he would not use leaven as a symbol of righteousness as that he would not use leprosy as a symbol of holiness.”
11. How did The Watch Tower under date of June 15, 1910, explain the parable of the leaven?
11 The Watch Tower, under date of June 15, 1910, page 205, pursued that same line of thought. It said, under the heading “Leaven Hidden in the Meal,” the following: “The parable of the ‘leaven’ (Mt 13:v. 33) illustrates the process by which, as was foretold, the church would get into the wrong condition. As a woman would take her batch of flour for baking and put leaven (yeast) in it and the result would be that the mass would become leavened, so it would be with the church of Christ; the food of the entire household would become leavened or corrupted. Every portion would become more or less vitiated with the leaven of false doctrines which would permeate the entire mass. Thus today nearly every doctrine inculcated by Jesus and his apostles has become more or less perverted or twisted by the errors of the dark ages.”—See also The Watch Tower as of June 15, 1912, pages 198, 199, under the heading “Parable of the Leaven.”
LEAVEN AND WINE
12. In objection, what might the aforementioned Watch Tower contributor insist upon, and what illustration of Jesus concerning wine and wineskins might he mention?
12 Now, if J. H. Paton, like the Watch Tower editor C. T. Russell, were alive at the time, he might have objected to those articles in the Watch Tower issues of 1900, 1910 and 1912. He might have insisted that The Watch Tower stick to the “one feature of the leaven only, in [Jesus’] illustration, that is its permeating power.” As the permeating power lies in the fermentation that is caused, he might have argued that fermentation is fermentation, something to be viewed objectively. So he might have referred to Matthew 9:17, where Jesus says: “Neither do people put new wine into old wineskins; but if they do, then the wineskins burst and the wine spills out and the wineskins are ruined. But people put new wine into new wineskins, and both things are preserved.”—Also, Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37, 38.
13. (a) In what sense, then, is the fermentation of the wine used as a symbol? (b) In view of that, what question arises as to the symbolic significance of fermentation caused by leaven?
13 The still-continuing fermentation of the new wine causes gas bubbles and bursts the old, nonresilient wineskins. The wine fermentation operates to a good end, and so here fermentation is used in a good way and symbolizes something good. But does that argue that the fermentation caused by leaven is used as a symbol of something good in the parable of the woman that hid leaven in three large measures of flour until the whole mass was fermented? And so is there an exception or two to the Bible’s use of leaven as a symbol of what is bad and wicked? Does the Bible use leaven as a symbol in a twofold way, both as a symbol of what is good and righteous and also as a symbol of what is bad and wicked?
14. What fact shows that the Bible does not treat wine fermentation as on the same level as fermentation caused by leaven added to a batch of flour?
14 How, though, can it be rightly argued that the Bible uses the leaven of dough in such a twofold way, when, at the celebration of the Passover and of the seven-day festival that followed, wine was allowed to be drunk whereas all leaven of bread was forbidden, banned, under pain of death for a violator? (Lev. 23:5-13; Luke 22:7-20) So, does the Bible treat all fermentations and their permeative power alike? Does the Bible treat only the permeating power caused by fermentation as the one factor that is to be considered, regardless of what causes the fermentation? The Scriptural answer is No! Otherwise, we would not find the apparent discrepancy at the celebration of the Passover and of the week-long festival of unleavened bread that followed the Passover.
15. In the matter of fermentation, what is the determining factor, and so is the parable of the leaven on the positive side or not?
15 It is apparent, therefore, that fermentation with its permeating power is, in itself, not the determining factor so that it occupies a status either good or bad as regards its symbolical meaning. Rather, the thing that is added to promote the fermentation is the determining factor. In the Holy Scriptures, the fermentation (as a factor) is not isolated from what causes it. Consequently, the fermentation that is naturally caused in wine making is not classified as being the same as the fermentation that is promoted in flour dough by an additive, yeast, namely leaven or sour dough.* Hence anyone’s referring to the fermenting new wine put in new wineskins in order for him to show that leaven (sour dough) added in bread making is a symbol of what is good and righteous fails to make the point. His argument is not Bible-based. For this reason the argument used by J. H. Paton in the April 1881 issue of Zion’s Watch Tower does not hold good. The inspired Scriptures do oblige us to make a distinction in the case of leaven (sour dough) as a symbol. Accordingly, the parable of the leaven is not an illustration on the positive side; to the contrary, it is on the negative side. But we shall present more on this matter of leaven later on in our discussion.
“THE KINGDOM OF THE HEAVENS IS LIKE” VARIOUS THINGS
16, 17. Why might someone object to the foregoing because of how the parables of the mustard grain and of the leaven are introduced? But what kind of introduction is given to the parable of the dragnet, used in what operation?
16 Does the former explanation in the 1900, 1910 and 1912 issues of The Watch Tower on the parable of the leaven hold good today, when Jesus’ parabolic illustrations are reaching the climax of their fulfillment? Yes, indeed! Some students of the Bible might incline to object, because, say they, it is “the kingdom of the heavens” that is said to be like the leaven and like the grain of mustard seed. (Matt. 13:31-33) Yes, but it is also true that, in the seventh and last parable of the series in Matthew, chapter thirteen, Jesus said:
17 “Again the kingdom of the heavens is like a dragnet let down into the sea and gathering up fish of every kind. When it got full they hauled it up onto the beach and, sitting down, they collected the fine ones into vessels, but the unsuitable they threw away. That is how it will be in the conclusion of the system of things: the angels will go out and separate the wicked from among the righteous and will cast them into the fiery furnace. There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be.”—Matt. 13:47-50.
18. (a) So, what questions are raised with regard to the parable of the dragnet and that of the wise and foolish virgins? (b) Evidently Jesus meant what by “the kingdom of the heavens is like”?
18 Now we know that those making up the “kingdom of the heavens” or the Messianic “kingdom of God” are the Lamb Jesus Christ and his 144,000 spiritual Israelite followers. (Rev. 7:4-8; 14:1-5) So we are here obliged to ask, Did Jesus mean that this Kingdom class of 144,001 are like a dragnet that holds within itself “wicked” and “righteous” individuals and that it is manipulated by angels inferior to Jesus Christ? We remember, too, that Jesus introduced another parable, saying: “Then the kingdom of the heavens will become like ten virgins that took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were discreet.” (Matt. 25:1, 2) Are we to understand that the Kingdom class of one hundred and forty-four thousand and one is divided up into half of foolish individuals and half of discreet ones? Never could this be the case! Evidently, then, by the expression “the kingdom of the heavens is like” Jesus meant that, in connection with the kingdom of the heavens, there is a feature like this or like that. Or, matters in connection with the Kingdom will be like such and such a thing.
19, 20. (a) To arrive at the proper understanding, what do we have to know about the purpose of the parable series? (b) According to his own words, why did Jesus speak to the people in parables?
19 This understanding of the meaning of expressions allows for Jesus to illustrate bad as well as good developments with respect to the “kingdom of the heavens” or the Messianic “kingdom of God.” To arrive at the proper understanding, we have to take into account the purpose for which the parable or series of parables was given. Jesus himself advised us of that purpose. After he had publicly given the parable or illustration of the four kinds of soil upon which the seed of the sower fell, his disciples asked him: “Why is it you speak to them by the use of illustrations?” Let us note, now, this reply of Jesus:
20 “To you [disciples] it is granted to understand the sacred secrets of the kingdom of the heavens, but to those people it is not granted. For whoever has, more will be given him and he will be made to abound; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them by the use of illustrations, because [to quote from Isaiah 6:9, 10], looking, they look in vain, and hearing, they hear in vain, neither do they get the sense of it; and toward them the prophecy of Isaiah is having fulfillment, which says, ‘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.’”—Matt. 13:10-15.
21. (a) By Jesus’ use of parables, how was Isaiah 6:9, 10 fulfilled in the case of Israel? (b) How did the parable of the four kinds of soil illustrate that same fact?
21 This was the stated purpose of Jesus in speaking to the people of Israel by the use of parables, to fulfill Psalm 78:2; and by means of the parables Jesus showed that the prophecy of Isaiah 6:9, 10 would be fulfilled, namely, that comparatively few, a remnant, would accept his true message and become real Christians worthy of the “kingdom of the heavens.” For example, in the parable of the sower he spoke of four kinds of soil, but three out of four proved to be unproductive. Only the fine type of soil produced abundantly, thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold, in proclaiming the message of the Kingdom. (Matt. 13:3-8) Thus in the very first parable of the series the negative aspect as regards the “kingdom of the heavens” predominated.
22. In Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds, toward which class is Isaiah 6:9, 10 fulfilled?
22 In the next given parable of the wheat and the weeds, the enemy oversowed the wheat field with weeds, so that, when the harvesttime came, the field was marred by the presence of the abundance of weeds. Jesus explained that the “fine seed” are the true anointed Christians, “the sons of the kingdom.” The weeds are the opposite of this, they are imitation Christians, in fact, “the sons of the wicked one,” the Devil who sowed them. The harvesttime is the “conclusion of a system of things,” where we now find ourselves. As we look out over the spiritual harvest work that has been going on since the spring of 1919 C.E., what do we observe? The “sons of the kingdom” who are harvested under angelic guidance are a mere remnant, today numbering around ten thousand partakers of the emblematic bread and wine at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Since the year 1948, when the report shows such ones numbered 25,395, they have been decreasing in number. On the other hand, the imitation “sons of the kingdom,” the ones toward whom the prophecy of Isaiah 6:9, 10 is fulfilled, are around one thousand million members of the churches of Christendom.—Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43.
23. In the parable of the hidden treasure, how many take positive action?
23 In the parable of the treasure hid in the field, it is only one man that discovers this treasure and “sells what things he has and buys that field.” All the others have their sense of values applied in a different direction because their eyes were as if ‘pasted shut’ and did not see the hidden value in that field.—Matt. 13:44.
24. In the parable of the pearl of high value, how many traveling merchants were willing to pay the price for it?
24 In the parable of the “one pearl of high value,” it is only one “traveling merchant” that craves having the rarest pearl that can be found. He is the only one that “went and promptly sold all the things he had and bought it.” All the other traveling merchants were looking for something else that they considered valuable, likely something that would not cost them all that they had in order to get the purchase price.—Matt. 13:45, 46.
25, 26. (a) At what time do the parables of the dragnet and of the wheat field come to the climax of their fulfillment? (b) How are the prophecies fulfilled toward the “righteous” ones and toward the imitation Christians?
25 In the parable of the dragnet, this mass fishing instrument, handled by fishermen who picture “the angels,” collects “fish of every kind,” fish suitable for Lawkeeping Jews to eat and other fish forbidden by the law of Moses. Only the suitable fish were collected into vessels, and the rest were thrown away as abominable.—Matt. 13:47-50.
26 It is here on earth, in the “conclusion of the system of things,” where we find ourselves since the year 1914 C.E., that the parable of the wheat field comes to the climax of its fulfillment. So as operations go forward, to “separate the wicked from among the righteous,” under the invisible guidance of God’s holy angels, what do we observe to be the facts of the case in connection with the “kingdom of the heavens”? Are the “righteous” ones who are called to the heavenly kingdom in the overwhelming majority? They are, to the contrary, an insignificant spiritual “remnant,” whereas the church members of Christendom who expect to get to heaven at death are estimated to be in the hundreds of millions. The prophecy of Isaiah 6:9, 10 is fulfilled toward these imitation Christians. These will be cast into the “fire” of the “great tribulation” that is just ahead. (Matt. 13:47-50) So Christendom, the counterfeit “kingdom of the heavens,” is not the place for anyone now to seek refuge.
“The process of alcoholic fermentation requires careful control for the production of high quality wines. . . . Grape skins are normally covered with bacteria, molds, and yeast. The wild yeasts such as Pichia, Kloeckera, and Torulopsis are often more numerous than the wine yeast Saccharomyces. Although species of Saccharomyces are generally considered more desirable for efficient alcoholic fermentation, it is possible that other yeast genera may contribute to flavour, specially in the early stages of fermentation. Saccharomyces is preferred because of its efficiency in converting sugar to alcohol and because it is less sensitive to the inhibiting effect of alcohol.”—Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 19, edition for 1974, page 879, under “Fermentation.”