THE KINGDOM IN MYSTERY

 

ByROBERT GOVETT, M. A.

 

There are few subjects which penetrate so deeply into the doctrine and practice of the New Testament as that of "The Kingdom of Heaven," or "The Kingdom of God."  It seems to me, that there are also few subjects on which clear and true views would be more beneficial to the church.

 

What then was the Lordís testimony concerning it in the Old Testament?

 

In Isaiah 2 it was foretold, that the temple should in that day be lifted up on a height conspicuous from afar, and that the nations should journey thereto.  Jerusalem should be the place where Godís word would be taught, and whence it would go forth.  The Lord should rule the nations; and as the result of His righteous rebukes, peace should be established everywhere.  The weapons of war should be forged into the tools of peace, as no longer needed for the destruction of men, or the defence of life and property.  Israel should walk in the light of Godís countenance.  Was this fulfilled by the Gospel?

 

Only so far, that the doctrines of Christ were sent forth from Jerusalem.  But the other points have not been fulfilled; there is scarce a semblance of their fulfillment.

 

Take, as the second passage, Isaiah 11.  This prophetical chapter testifies of the rise of Jesus as the descendant of David, and of the resting of the Spirit of God upon Him.  This was accomplished at the Saviourís baptism.  He spake not after the sight of His eyes, nor after the hearing of His ears: but full of the Spirit of God, He detected the wiles of the Pharisees, and read the hearts both of His followers and of His foes.

 

But there is no fulfilment as yet of verses 4 to 16There it is promised, that justice shall be the principle of His reign; and by Him shall be slain the Wicked One, the Man of Sin: 4, 5.  By Him shall the wild animals be tamed, and poisonous serpents deprived of their venom: 6, 9.  Jesus shall be set as the centre of the nations; "and His rest shall be glory:" 10.  This rest, as Paul teaches (Heb. 4: 10) has yet to come.  In that day Israel shall be delivered from their exile, and restored to the land of promise.  The ten tribes and the two shall no longer form two hostile nations: 10, 14.  God will put forth His hand in visible might upon the N.W. arm of the Red Sea, and dry it up.  He shall divide the Euphrates into seven streams, that it may be forded with ease by returning Israel, as once of old the Jordan was passed by a like miracle: 15, 16.

 

Has the Gospel fulfilled these things?  Not at all!  But they will hereafter be fulfilled; although they are not yet, because of Israelís unbelief.  God foretold the evil day of the blindness of the Jew, in the vision granted to Isaiah in the temple: Isaiah 6.  To this passage both Jesus and the apostles frequently refer.

 

A SECRET OR "MYSTERY" of God was to intervene, before the promises were fulfilled to Israel.  Before Messiah was revealed on earth, God designed that Messiah should be concealed on high, testified of to the Gentiles, and believed in by the elect from both Jew and Gentiles, who constitute the church or body of Christ.

 

Hence there are two states of the kingdom: (1) THE KINGDOM IN MYSTERY; and (2) THE KINGDOM IN MANIFESTATION.  Let us first consider The Kingdom in Mystery.

 

Jesus, heralded by John the Baptist, appears on the earth as the Lordís Anointed one.  But the more he manifests Himself in doctrine and miracle, the more do the unbelief and rejection of Israel and its leaders display themselves.  Twice do the Pharisees blaspheme the Holy Spirit, by whom Jesus was anointed: Matt. 9: 34; 12: 24.  Jesus testifies on the second occasion, that this is the unpardonable sin.  He thereupon casts off the ties of the flesh: he owns no more even the bonds of His family.  The ties He allows are those of the Spirit alone.  Mary is no more now than any other of those obedient to the Word of God.  Jesus at once takes up a new position; beginning to speak on the sea, yet near the shore.  He leaves also His old form of direct teaching; putting a veil on His face, as it were, by using parables.  For the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was the proof of Israelís foretold blindness: Isaiah 6.  They heard Messiah, yet understood Him not: they saw His person, and yet recognized Him not.  Hence Jesus speaks in parables, which they heard indeed, but their spiritual meaning they did not apprehend.

 

Israel was then divided into two portions: (1) the elect out of it; (2) and the body of the nation, blinded: Isaiah 8: 12-18.  The fathers earnestly desired to see and hear Messiah come in the flesh; but the nation refused Him when He appeared in wisdom and in miracle. Blessed nevertheless were they, whose eyes and hearts were opened so to believe and obey.  This was the occasion of fulfilling one of Messiahís perfections, that He should be like Joseph, a revealer of secrets. (Matt. 13: 34-35.)  Where was it so predicted?  In Psalm 78: 2.  That Psalm describes Israel in early days as rejected for their unbelief; and as provoking God, in spite of His many mercies to them in Egypt and the desert.  For their sins in Canaan the Lord delivered them over to their foes, till, for His own gloryís sake, He arose and destroyed those who oppressed them.  Then ensued a change in His plan.  He gave up Shiloh, as the place of His abode, and chose Judah and Jerusalem, giving to His people David to be their king.  Promoted from the lowest of stations, he guides the flock of God at length with integrity and skill.

 

Now this history was also further typical of Godís purposes in the future.  Israel was a second time to be cast off for their unbelief, trespasses and blasphemy, in spite of greater goodness on Godís part.  There is to be a future giving of them up to their enemies, in the latter day of Great Tribulation; and a second and final deliverance of them.  Then Judah is to be brought into prominence, with the exaltation of the temple and the glory of the land under the better covenant yet to be made.  The Psalm ends with the choice of David, his integrity and skill.  Through him peace is brought to Godís long-rebellious, long-chastened nation.  Thus at length the kingdom shall be given into the hand of the true Son of David, more skilful of hand and more upright of heart.  And that is the cessation alike of Israelís sins, and of their punishments.

 

Let us now consider the seven parables which Jesus uttered on this occasion: Matt. 13.  They seem divided into groups of 1+3+3 =7. First stands the Sower, in some respects apart from the rest.  Then come three connected together: - the Tares, the Mustard Seed, and the Leaven.  Lastly we have the three delivered to the disciples alone in the house: the Hid Treasure, the Pearl, and the Drag-net.

 

These parables contain "mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven," verse, 19; or taken generally they describe "the mystery of the Kingdom of God" (Mark 4: 11.) as the opposite to its manifestation.

 

1. THE SOWER tells of the present time, of "the Word of the Kingdom:" (verse, 19,) not of its sceptre dashing foes to pieces. Jesus is represented in it as the Man of Peace, sowing the Word of God, uttering the goodness of the Kingdom.  This parable then discloses the hindrances to the reception of the testimony of God concerning the millennium, arising from the world, the flesh, and the devil.

 

Among those who listen to the tidings of the Kingdom of Glory to come, the Saviour discerned four classes.

 

(1.) The men of the wayside; these do not even understand the doctrine presented, and Satan removes the truth from their hearts. There can be no fruits of the Kingdom, where the Kingdom itself is not understood.

 

(2.) The men of the rocky ground.  These for awhile believe: their souls kindle with the bright pictures of glory which shall burst forth in that day.  But when they find that persecution is to be endured on the way to it, their enthusiasm is gone; the flesh is overcome by a frowning world without.

 

(3.) The thorny ground represents those who are deceived by the lusts of the soul from withinCares, riches, and pursuits of this present age overbear the pursuit and desire of the age of glory to comeWrestling for the prize demands an undivided heart.

 

(4.) There remains, therefore, only the good ground.  Such receive it in their understanding, and pursue the glory set before them with steadfastness and patience.  Even among these, however, there are great varieties of faithfulness; some bearing more than three times as much as others.  For as star differeth from star in glory, so also is the resurrection of the dead.

 

As long, then, as this parable shall be descriptive or our times, or the Kingdom in mystery, so long the world cannot be converted by the Gospel.  Not one half even hear the tidings, and out of that one half, only one class in four answers to the design of God in giving that testimony!

 

2. Pass we next to the parable of the Mustard Seed: for I reserve the consideration of the Wheat and Tares to the last.  In the Mustard Seed, Jesus foretells, that hour of His lowly, unworldly doctrine so opposed to the greatness of the flesh, there would spring up a great worldly system, the rulers of which would aspire to be the equals of the kings of the earth in their power, pomp, pride, and war.  As the consequence of this evil growth, Satan and his angels - those enemies of the Sower - would enter, and take possession of it.  How this has been fulfilled, most signally at Rome, in the Pope and his Cardinals, all know.  But, in inferior degree, the same principles are at work, wherever religion becomes nationalized.  Then, the ministers of the Gospel become transformed, more or less, into the great of the earth, and become joint rulers of the world.

 

3. In the Leaven, we behold the inward state of that which calls itself Christís Kingdom, or "Christendom."  The Mustard Seed disclosed its outward aspect; this tells us that the pure doctrines of Christ would be debased and corrupted by the leaven of the flesh and of the world.  By the woman we are to understand Rome - the great city that was ruling the kings of the earth, when the last prophecy was given.  Through Romeís agency and influence, false doctrine, idolatries, and all manner of corruptions, have been introduced into the professing nations of Christendom.  How the leaven is spreading in our day, needs none to point out.  And Jesus foretells, that this process will advance, till at length all so called Christian nations in Europe, Asia, and Africa will accept false Christianity in preference to the true.  Here is a secret of God, which multitudes will not believe.

 

4. The parable of the Treasure Hid in the field discovers to us Jesus as the Son of Man, winning for Himself the right to the Millennial Kingdom.  This is the treasure which He finds in the world. But He surrenders this right, and conceals for a time the glory which has inspired His heart, because a greater scheme has presented itself to Him - the redemption of the world by His death.

 

5. The Pearl exhibits to us the Jew as the seeker after righteousness through law; but the Gospel reveals to him the perfect righteousness of Messiah; whereupon he abandons his own righteousness to obtain that of Christ. For a perfect key to this parable the reader has but to consult Phil. 3.

 

6. Next follows the parable of the Drag-net.  It describes in emblem the judgment of the Gentiles, or living nations of the globe, by the word of God given to Abraham concerning himself and his posterity, Gen. 12: 3.  At length the time is come, that Christ judges the nations; and they are blessed or cursed according as they have blessed or cursed the natural seed of Abraham.  This parable, then, is parallel with that of the Sheep and Goats.  As the word of the Lord went forth from the promised land, so there at length the judgment of the Gentiles by the word of Christ, and by the agency of angels, takes effect.  The evil are taken from among the righteous, the righteous obtain a portion in the earth: the evil are cast into Gehenna of fire.  This judgment takes place at the end of this present evil age.

 

7. Let us consider, lastly, the parable of the Wheat and Tares.  This parable presents both aspects of the kingdom: first, the kingdom in mystery, then as manifested in judgment by Christ and His angels.

 

Jesus is here, also, the Sower; "the field is the world."  The Lord predicts the marring of His work, by Satanís raising up counterfeit Christians.  The evil work of the Deceiver is not to be repaired in this present age.  How then can a glorious and pure Church at length appear on earth, - as so many anticipate?

 

The confusion arising out of the presence and agencies of true and false Christians side by side is to continue till Jesus appears to judge.  No efforts of true disciples to exterminate mere professors are sanctioned by Christ.  Both are to grow together in the world, till the angels sever the two parties for their eternal destinations. Judgment does not belong to the present season of mystery and mercy.  But at the Saviourís advent the visible and forcible interference of angels will close the present scene of Godís patience. The harvest is the period of judgment, which finishes the kingdom in mystery.  Then occurs the placing of the wheat and the tares in their fitting position, during the kingdom in manifestation.

 

This parable, then, is peculiarly valuable, as presenting at one view both aspects of the kingdom - (1) its MYSTERY, and (2) its MANIFESTATION.

 

(1) During the first period, mercy reigns, and the tares and the wheat are allowed by God to run to seed; for it is the season of grace. Disciplesí efforts to introduce judgment into the period of grace are forbidden.

 

(2) But, at length, the end of the age comes, and the Saviour sends out of the heaven His angels, instructing them to clear the earth both of the wicked and of their instruments of wickedness.  Then the earth becomes the manifest kingdom of the Son of Man. "The Son of Man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all stumbling-blocks (Greek) and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire."  Here is the earthly department of the millennial kingdom.  But our Lord adds, "then shall the righteous shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." Here is the sphere of those risen from the dead, or the heavenly department of the millennial kingdom.  The same two departments are recognized by the Holy Ghost in 1 Cor. 15. "There are also celestial bodies (heavenly), and bodies terrestrial (earthly); but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.  There is one glory of the sun, and another of the moon, and another of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory.  So also is the resurrection from the dead." 1 Cor. 15: 40-42.

 

The Drag-net, I observe, gives only the earthly department of the kingdom in manifestation.

 

How then were the disciples to regard these new discoveries of the Saviour about the kingdom of God?  Did they, or did they not, set aside what they had learned and what the scribes still taught? Assuming, as both parties did, the literality of the prophecies of the Old Testament.

 

The Saviourís reply to this is given in verse 52.  After he had learned from the apostles that they understood these parables, he adds, "Therefore every scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like to a householder who bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old."

 

In those countries there are fruits which are good for food, both when fresh, and in their dried state.  So the householder could draw forth out of his closet both grapes just gathered, and also the raisins of last year; he could set side by side upon the table at one meal, both figs fresh plucked, and dried figs out of his stores.

 

Now, in Godís sight and estimation, the law is the old thing, the Gospel the new, Heb. 8: 13; 9: 15; Matt. 9: 17.  The teacher then who shall truly understand the kingdom of God will have two classes of prophecy concerning it.  There will be the Old Testament view of the kingdom of glory, and also the New Testament viewJesus teaches us, then, that neither of these classes of prophecy makes void, or clashes with, the other: the dry figs and the fresh are alike good and healthful. Neither is to banish the other from the table of the children of the kingdom.  The Jew was right in interpreting literally the prophets of old, concerning a "day" to come; the Christian is right in interpreting the Saviourís parables now spoken, as referring mainly to the present dispensation of mystery.

 

Each class is quite distinct from the other: they are really two classes of fruit, though they spring from the same tree.  The new fruit has a taste different from the old.

 

Hence we may notice the mistake of the anti-millenarian.  He would prove, if he could, that there is but one class of prophecy, not two. To him, Old Testament prophecy speaks of the Church and its glory, as well as the New Testament.  He does not discern between the earthly promises made to the Jew, and the heavenly ones made to the Church.*  He perceives not the distinction between the kingdom in mystery and the parables which describe it on the one hand; and the kingdom in manifestation with their Old Testament teachings about it, on the other.

 

The Israelite prophets will be fulfilled when the glory comes to the earth.  These parables tell of the deferring of the kingdom of glory, because of the unbelief of the nation to whom those promises belong.  Now this unbelief of Israel introduces a new body, the Church of Christ; and the Saviourís parables discover what would fill up the time of Godís patience before the kingdom comes in its glory.

 

Let us then carefully distinguish between the old things of the kingdom, and the new! Let us seek the promises of the heavenly kingdom, not the pleasures and rewards of the present evil age!

 

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