Jesus often preached about the kingdom of God—but what did he say about it? Did he describe peace and prosperity, health and wealth, law and order? Did he get into details of governmental organization?
No, we do not need to know those things. The most important thing we need to know about the kingdom is how we get there in the first place—and when Jesus described the kingdom, that is what he talked about.
Let’s begin with Matthew 13, and the parable of the sower. Several times Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like…” and then he would tell a story. We know many of these parables, but a few details may surprise us.
Parable of the sower
A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. (Matthew 13:3-9)
The story is easy to understand. We can picture a man scattering wheat seeds, and we understand about birds, thorns and sunshine. But Jesus had a spiritual purpose in this story, and the disciples found it puzzling. So they asked Jesus, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” (verse 10).
Jesus told them that it was not yet time for people to understand the “secrets of the kingdom of heaven” (verse 11). He is saying that this parable is actually about the kingdom of God—something we see again in verse 19. Most of the people in the crowd were not spiritually responsive (vs. 13-15), and so Jesus was not giving them more than they could handle. But Jesus taught his disciples the spiritual significance of the story—and they have published it for us.
When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. (verse 19).
When we preach the gospel, Jesus says, some people do not understand it. That’s just the way it is in this world. Don’t get upset if people think you are talking nonsense.
The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away (vs. 20-21).
Some people like the gospel as a novelty. But then they get bored with it, and when it doesn’t solve their problems, they quit. So when we share the gospel, some of the people who respond will eventually fall away. Don’t be surprised; that’s just the way some people are.
The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (verse 22).
People do not have to be rich to be deceived by riches. All sorts of people can be distracted by the worries of this world, and some drop out for that reason. They are more worried about this world than they are about eternity.
But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. (verse 23).
Jesus wants us to be this kind of person. Seeds don’t have a choice as to what kind of soil they fall on, but we have a choice as to what kind of soil we will be for the seed. We can choose to respond to the gospel. When trials come, we can choose to stick with the gospel, or to fall away. When life gets boring or worrisome, we can choose whether to bear fruit for the kingdom. That’s the kind of message Jesus gives us.
This parable does not describe a future golden age. It does not fit well with a kingdom that begins in a blaze of glory at Jesus’ return. Rather, it describes the kingdom of God that exists for many years before the return of Christ. This parable describes a long, slow growth process for the kingdom.
The kingdom of God is not just a seed, and it is not just a fully grown plant. It is the entire story—something small that grows into something large.
When we hear the gospel, we should respond. Though trials come our way, we need to keep our eyes on the goal. Though this life has its worries, we should not let them distract us. Through faith, we enter the kingdom of God, and through faithfulness, we stay in the kingdom of God, and through faith, we bear fruit for the kingdom.