God’s Kingdom—Are You Getting the Sense of It?
“As for the one sown upon the fine soil, this is the one hearing the word and getting the sense of it.”—MATTHEW 13:23.
1. What are some common beliefs regarding ‘the kingdom of the heavens’?
HAVE you ‘got the sense of’ what God’s Kingdom is? Concepts of ‘the kingdom of the heavens’ have differed widely over the centuries. A common belief among some church members today is that the Kingdom is something God puts within a person’s heart at conversion. Others feel it is a place where good people go after death to enjoy eternal bliss. Still others claim that God has left it to humans to bring about the Kingdom on earth by their working to instill Christian teachings and practices into social and governmental affairs.
2. How does the Bible explain the Kingdom of God, and what will it accomplish?
2 However, the Bible clearly shows that the Kingdom of God is not an institution on earth. It is neither a condition of heart nor the Christianizing of human society. True, a correct understanding of what this Kingdom is leads to great changes in the lives of those who exercise faith in it. But the Kingdom itself is a divinely instituted heavenly government that brings about God’s will, eliminating the effects of sin and death and restoring righteous conditions on earth. Already this Kingdom has taken power in the heavens, and soon “it will crush and put an end to all these [human] kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite.”—Daniel 2:44; Revelation 11:15; 12:10.
3. When Jesus began his ministry, what was opened up for humans?
3 Historian H. G. Wells wrote: “This doctrine of the Kingdom of Heaven, which was the main teaching of Jesus, and which plays so small a part in the Christian creeds, is certainly one of the most revolutionary doctrines that ever stirred and changed human thought.” Right from the start, the theme of Jesus’ ministry was: “Repent, you people, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” (Matthew 4:17) He was there on the scene as anointed King, and joy of joys, the way was now being opened up for humans not only to share in the blessings of that Kingdom but also to be corulers and priests with Jesus in that Kingdom!—Luke 22:28-30; Revelation 1:6; 5:10.
4. In the first century, how did the multitudes respond to the “good news of the kingdom,” leading to what judgment?
4 While multitudes heard the thrilling “good news of the kingdom,” only a few believed. This was partly because the religious leaders had “shut up the kingdom of the heavens before men.” They “took away the key of knowledge” by their false teachings. Because most people rejected Jesus as the Messiah and the anointed King of God’s Kingdom, Jesus said to them: “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a nation producing its fruits.”—Matthew 4:23; 21:43; 23:13; Luke 11:52.
5. How did most of those who heard Jesus’ illustrations show they did not hear with understanding?
5 When teaching a large crowd on one occasion, Jesus, according to his custom, used a series of illustrations to test the crowd and weed out those who had no more than a superficial interest in the Kingdom. The first illustration involved a sower who sowed seed in four types of soil. The first three types were unfavorable for growing plants, but the last one was “fine soil” that produced good fruitage. The short illustration ended with the exhortation: “Let him that has ears listen.” (Matthew 13:1-9) Most of those present heard him, but they did not “listen.” They had no motivation, no real interest in knowing how seed sown under varying conditions was like the Kingdom of the heavens. They went back home to their day-to-day lives, likely thinking that Jesus’ illustrations were no more than good stories with moral themes. What richness of understanding and what grand privileges and opportunities they lost out on because their hearts were unresponsive!
6. Why was understanding of “the sacred secrets of the kingdom” granted only to Jesus’ disciples?
6 Jesus told his disciples: “To you it is granted to understand the sacred secrets of the kingdom of the heavens, but to those people it is not granted.” Quoting Isaiah, he added: “‘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.’ However, happy are your eyes because they behold, and your ears because they hear.”—Matthew 13:10-16; Mark 4:11-13.
“Getting the Sense of” the Kingdom
7. Why is it important to “get the sense of” the Kingdom?
7 Jesus put his finger on the problem. It had to do with “getting the sense of” the Kingdom message. To his disciples he said privately: “You, then, listen to the illustration of the man that sowed. Where anyone hears the word of the kingdom but does not get the sense of it, the wicked one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.” He went on to explain that the four types of soil represented various conditions of the heart into which “the word of the kingdom” would be sown.—Matthew 13:18-23; Luke 8:9-15.
8. What prevented the “seed” sown in the first three types of soil from producing fruitage?
8 The “seed” was good in each case, but fruitage would depend upon the condition of the soil. If the soil of the heart was like a busy, packed-down road, hardened by many unspiritual activities, it would be easy for the one hearing the Kingdom message to excuse himself, saying that there was no time for the Kingdom. The neglected seed could easily be snatched away before it could take root. But what if the seed was sown in a heart resembling rocky soil? The seed might sprout, but it would have difficulty sending its roots down to any depth for nourishment and stability. The prospect of being an obedient servant of God, particularly in the heat of persecution, would present an overwhelming challenge, and the individual would stumble. And again, if the soil of the heart was so full of thornlike anxieties or the materialistic desire for riches, the spindly Kingdom plant would be choked. In these three typical situations in life, no Kingdom fruitage would be produced.
9. Why was the seed sown in good soil able to produce good fruit?
9 However, what about the Kingdom seed sown in good soil? Jesus answers: “As for the one sown upon the fine 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 13:23) In “getting the sense of” the Kingdom, they would produce good fruitage according to their individual circumstances.
Responsibility Comes With Understanding
10. (a) How did Jesus show that “getting the sense of” the Kingdom brings both blessings and responsibility? (b) Did Jesus’ commission to go and make disciples apply only to the first-century disciples?
10 After giving six further illustrations to explain various aspects of the Kingdom, Jesus asked his disciples: “Did you get the sense of all these things?” When they answered “yes,” he said: “That being the case, every public instructor, when taught respecting the kingdom of the heavens, is like a man, a householder, who brings out of his treasure store things new and old.” The teachings and training provided by Jesus would build his disciples into mature Christians who could bring forth from their ‘storehouse’ an endless supply of rich spiritual food. Much of this related to God’s Kingdom. Jesus made it clear that “getting the sense of” the Kingdom would bring not only blessings but also responsibility. He commanded: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”—Matthew 13:51, 52; 28:19, 20.
11. When 1914 arrived, what events related to the Kingdom took place?
11 As promised, Jesus has continued to be with his true disciples down through the centuries until this day. In these last days, he has progressively given them understanding, and he has also held them responsible for the use of the increasing light of truth. (Luke 19:11-15, 26) In 1914, Kingdom events began to unfold quickly and dramatically. In that year, not only did the “birth” of the long-hoped-for Kingdom occur but the “conclusion of the system of things” began. (Revelation 11:15; 12:5, 10; Daniel 7:13, 14, 27) True Christians, discerning the meaning of current events, have conducted the greatest Kingdom-preaching and teaching campaign in history. Jesus foretold this, saying: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”—Matthew 24:14.
12. (a) What has been the result of the extensive modern-day Kingdom witness? (b) In this doubting world, what danger is there for Christians?
12 This vast Kingdom witness has reached into more than 230 lands. Already, over five million true disciples are sharing in this work, and still others are being gathered. But if we compare the number of disciples with earth’s 5.6 billion inhabitants, it is evident that as in Jesus’ day, the vast majority of mankind do not “get the sense of” the Kingdom. Many, as predicted, ridicule and say: “Where is this promised presence of his?” (2 Peter 3:3, 4) The danger for us as Christians is that their complacent, doubting, materialistic attitude could gradually affect how we view our Kingdom privileges. Surrounded by people of this world, we easily can begin to adopt some of their attitudes and practices. How vital it is that we “get the sense of” God’s Kingdom and hold fast to it!
Examining Ourselves in Relation to the Kingdom
13. As to the commission to preach the Kingdom good news, how can we test whether we are continuing to ‘hear’ with discernment?
13 Jesus said of the harvest period in which we live: “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 . . . At that time the righteous ones will shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let him that has ears listen.” (Matthew 13:41, 43) Are you continuing to ‘hear’ with obedient responsiveness the command to preach the Kingdom and make disciples? Remember, “the one sown upon the fine soil” ‘heard the word and got the sense of it’ and produced good fruitage.—Matthew 13:23.
14. When instruction is given, how do we show that we “get the sense of” the counsel given?
14 When doing personal study and attending Christian meetings, we have to ‘incline our hearts to discernment.’ (Proverbs 2:1-4) When counsel is given regarding conduct, dress, music, and entertainment, we must allow it to sink into our hearts and move us to make any adjustments needed. Never rationalize, make excuses, or otherwise fail to respond. If the Kingdom is real in our lives, we will live by its standards and zealously proclaim it to others. Jesus said: “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will.”—Matthew 7:21-23.
15. Why is it important to ‘seek first the kingdom and God’s righteousness’?
15 The human tendency is to be anxious about needed food, clothing, and shelter, but Jesus said: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his [God’s] righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33, 34) In setting priorities, put the Kingdom first in your life. Keep your life simple, being satisfied with necessities. It would be folly to fill our lives with unessential activities and acquisitions, perhaps rationalizing that doing this is acceptable, since these things are not necessarily bad in themselves. While that may be true, what would the acquiring and using of such nonessentials do to our scheduling personal study, attending Christian meetings, and engaging in the preaching work? Jesus said that the Kingdom is like a merchant who found one “pearl of high value [and] away he went and promptly sold all the things he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45, 46) This is how we should feel about God’s Kingdom. We should imitate Paul not Demas, who forsook the ministry “because he loved the present system of things.”—2 Timothy 4:10, 18; Matthew 19:23, 24; Philippians 3:7, 8, 13, 14; 1 Timothy 6:9, 10, 17-19.
“Unrighteous Persons Will Not Inherit God’s Kingdom”
16. How will “getting the sense of” God’s Kingdom help us avoid wrong conduct?
16 When the Corinthian congregation was tolerating immorality, Paul frankly said: “What! Do you not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom.” (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10) If we “get the sense of” God’s Kingdom, we will not deceive ourselves by thinking that Jehovah will tolerate some form of immorality as long as he sees us busy in Christian service. Uncleanness should not even be mentioned among us. (Ephesians 5:3-5) Do you detect that some of this world’s foul thinking or practices are beginning to creep into your life? Cut them out of your life immediately! The Kingdom is far too precious to lose for the sake of such things.—Mark 9:47.
17. In what ways will appreciation for God’s Kingdom promote humility and take away causes for stumbling?
17 Jesus’ disciples asked: “Who really is greatest in the kingdom of the heavens?” Jesus answered by setting a young child in their midst and saying: “Truly I say to you, Unless you turn around and become as young children, you will by no means enter into the kingdom of the heavens. Therefore, whoever will humble himself like this young child is the one that is the greatest in the kingdom of the heavens.” (Matthew 18:1-6) The proud, the demanding, the uncaring, and the lawless will not be in God’s Kingdom, nor will they be subjects of the Kingdom. Does your love for your brothers, your humility, your godly fear, move you to avoid stumbling others by your conduct? Or do you insist on your “rights” no matter how this attitude and conduct may affect others?—Romans 14:13, 17.
18. What will result to obedient mankind when God’s Kingdom causes His will to take place “as in heaven, also upon earth”?
18 Our heavenly Father, Jehovah, will soon answer fully the fervent prayer: “Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” Very soon the ruling King, Jesus Christ, will come in the sense of sitting down on his throne for judgment, to separate the “sheep” from the “goats.” At that appointed time, “the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world.’” The goats “will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life.” (Matthew 6:10; 25:31-34, 46) “The great tribulation” will clear away the old system and all who refuse to “get the sense of” the Kingdom. But the millions of “great tribulation” survivors and the billions who will be resurrected will inherit Kingdom blessings without end in the restored earthly Paradise. (Revelation 7:14) The Kingdom is earth’s new government, ruling from the heavens. It will carry out to completion Jehovah’s purpose for the earth and humankind, all to the sanctification of his most holy name. Is that not an inheritance well worth working for, sacrificing for, and waiting for? This is what “getting the sense of” the Kingdom should mean for us!
How Would You Answer?
□ What is the Kingdom of God?
□ Why did most of Jesus’ hearers not “get the sense of” the Kingdom?
□ How does “getting the sense of” the Kingdom bring both blessings and responsibility?
□ As to preaching, what indicates whether we have ‘got the sense of’ the Kingdom?
□ How do we show by our conduct that we have ‘got the sense of’ counsel given?
[Pictures on page 17]
Jesus’ disciples ‘got the sense of’ the Kingdom and produced good fruit