13-07-16 THE SECRET OF
THE KINGDOM PARABLES
Part One - The parable of the sower
By John Aldworth
Matt. 13: Behold a sower went forth to sow. And when he sowed, some seed fell the wayside and the fowls came and devoured them up.
Luke 8:8: And other fell on good ground and sprang up and bear fruit an hundredfold. And when He had said these things He cried, he that hath ears to hear let him hear.
Ps. 126:6: He that goeth forth and weepeth bearing precious seed shall doubtless come again with rejoicing bringing his sheaves with him.
Eccl. 11:6: In the morning sow thy seed and in the evening withhold not thine hand for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, this or that, or whether they shall both be alike good.
Isaiah 55:10-11: For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven and returneth not thither but watereth the earth and maketh it bring forth and bud that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater. So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth and shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please and it shall prosper.
Amos 9:13: Behold the days come, sayeth the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed and the mountains shall drop sweet wine and all the hills shall melt.
There is much more to the kingdom parables of Jesus that meets the eye or ear. However, it takes but a glance to see they bear one message to the crowd and quite another to the chosen disciples. Beyond both these messages, however, lies a deeper meaning that has to do with God’s unfolding of his plan for the ages and the role of the called and chosen within it. And that is the subject of this study.
Let us begin by looking at the parable of the sower and Jesus’ explanation of it (Matt. 13: 3-9, 18-23 and Luke 8: 4-15). This parable is often seen as a picture of how Israelites really sowed seed in Jesus’ day, but it is not. No sower worth his salt would sow seed in stony ground, plant it among thorns or try to get it grow on the trodden down footpath.
Rather, he would carefully plough and till a selected plot or field, removing the stones and thorns until it became ‘good ground’ and only then sow his seed. Why? Because seed corn is costly. In hard years farmers went hungry and their children sometimes went without bread to preserve enough seed to sow their fields again.
Even today seed corn costs far more to buy than ordinarily harvested grain. This is because it has to be specially dried, treated and preserved to ensure it will germinate when sown. It is indeed ‘precious seed’ (Ps. 126:6). Similarly, ‘the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation’ (Eph. 1: 13) is precious, having been carefully preserved accurately in its entirety in the Apostle Paul’s prison epistles in your King James Bible.
Naturally speaking, no farmer whether in Jesus’ time in Israel or now, who was in his right mind would sow precious seed willy-nilly, as the sower in the parable did. But God would. God would sow randomly because God sows by grace through faith and is not willing that any should perish. Accordingly, He freely scatters the precious seed of his word, his gospel, among all people, even those with the hardest, stoniest hearts.
The Israelites of Jesus’ day then were meant to grasp from this parable that the ‘sower’ was not a man but God Himself. What’s more they should have realised from the way Jesus was telling the story that He was the Messiah and was now present among them. However, spiritually speaking Jesus Himself is the ‘seed’ (Gal. 3:16) that is sown. Those ‘with ears to hear’ (Matt 13: 9) then would realise He was the seed that had come to them in a season of the Father’s ‘sowing’. The point of the parable is that the outcome of his visitation with them - whether there was a harvest of sufficient souls to save the nation - would depend on how the Seed was received, whether in good ground or bad. This is why no ‘harvest’ features in this parable - only the sowing and growing.
Luke 8:11 specifically says the ‘seed’ is the ‘word of God’. Yet in Matt. 13: 19 it is ‘the word of the kingdom’. Why the difference? Answer: While Jesus was ‘sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matt. 15:24), and thus the good news of the kingdom was properly first and foremost to the chosen nation, there was an ‘overspill’ of the word to others, even to Gentiles.
This is why the Apostle Peter tells a largely Roman, that is, Gentile, audience in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10: 36-38) that ‘that word, I say, ye know’. Earlier, in sharp contrast, he had told an entirely Jewish crowd in Jerusalem at Pentecost, ‘For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and all that are afar off…’ meaning Israelites (Acts 2:39). Thus we see that in the Acts period the sphere of the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom was widened by way of application from Israelites to others.
Well, so much for the message to the crowd. What was the meaning to the disciples? In private Jesus tells them that the parable of the sower explains why ‘only few’ are saved. It is because the devil makes the receiving of the seed unfruitful in many people’s hearts. Thus in Matt. 13:19 He says: When anyone heareth the word of the kingdom and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one and catcheth away that which was in his heart. This is he which received seed by the wayside.
To the disciples then, the parable, as explained by Jesus, told how the devil sought to thwart the preaching of the kingdom gospel at every stage by snatching away the word, preventing hearers from understanding it, stopping others from becoming ‘rooted’ in Christ (Eph. 3:17, Col.2:7) and swamping those who at first received the word with either the ‘riches’, or the ‘cares’ of this world.
Against such poor returns from the hard, stony or thorn-choked soil, the ‘good ground’, according to the parable, brought forth ‘some an hundredfold, some sixty and some thirty’. Yet the disciples saw no evidence of such marvelous growth and harvesting in the three and a half years of Jesus’s ministry and their own subsequent ministry in the Book of Acts. At best the return was very meagre as a little math shows. If each of the twelve apostles and 70 disciples saw only 12 souls saved in their personal ministry, one each for the 12 tribes of Israel, then the number saved would have been 98,400. But there is no evidence in the Book of Acts such a figure was ever reached.
What’s more, if each of the 12 souls saved under the preaching of each apostle/disciples had brought forth a 30-fold increase in fruitfulness by witnessing to others, then the total saved would have been nearly three million, about the population of Judea at the time. Clearly no such large scale conversion took place.
Why so? The answer is a dispensational one. In short it is that time for the great harvest had not come in the time of Jesus and his disciples. It did not come in the Acts period, nor has it come in ours. But it will come.
You see, the parable of the sower is timeless, in that it does not designate when the seed was sown, nor when it will be harvested. Certainly, it could be applied to the preaching of the kingdom of heaven in Jesus’s time and subsequently in the Acts period. But actually the ‘word’ of the kingdom had been proclaimed long before. For example, in Gen. 1:26 God said, ‘Let them (mankind) have dominion … over all the earth’. And dominion means ‘kingdom’.
The ‘word of the kingdom’ was proclaimed again in Daniel 7:13-14 when it is was prophesied: ‘One like the Son of man … came to the Ancient of Days … and there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away…’
The question is, of course, when will such kingdom and glory happen? When will the Son of man and his chosen ones have dominion over all people? The answer is, when the seed of the word of the kingdom ‘brings forth an hundredfold’. And when will that be? It could, of course, have been in Jesus’ time, for the kingdom of heaven was then ‘at hand’ (Matt. 4:17). But it wasn’t. Again, it could have come in the Acts period had Israel then repented of crucifying her Messiah and received Him as King. As the Apostle Peter told the Jews in Acts 3:19-20: Repent ye therefore … and He shall send Jesus Christ which was before preached unto you.’ But it didn’t.
When therefore would ‘thy kingdom come’, as our Lord told his disciples to pray for (Matt. 6:9)? Answer: not yet. And that it would come ‘but not yet’, was the deeper, hidden meaning to not only the parable of the sower but also to the other kingdom parables Jesus told.
This is borne out by a dispensational interpretation of the parable of the sower as given in App. 140 of The Companion Bible. This suggested timeline sees:
The first sowing ‘by the wayside’ as the kingdom proclamation by John the Baptist, who, like Jesus said, ‘Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matt. 31-2, Mark 1:1-8, Luke 3:1-18, John 1:6-36). In this ‘sowing’ the opposition of the evil one is seen in the birds of ill omen (as also in the parable of the ‘mustard tree’ (Matt. 13:30-31). The seed was ‘devoured’ and the word ‘not understood’.
The second sowing was by Christ Himself (Matt. 4:17), then by the Twelve (Matt. 10:7) and the Seventy (Luke 10:1-20). This sowing was ‘on stony ground’. It was received at first ‘with joy’ (Matt. 13:20, Mark 6:2, 12:13 and Luke 4:22) but became unfruitful for lack of root (Mark 4:16-17).
The third sowing was by Peter and the Eleven and ‘them that heard Him’ in the dispensation of Acts (Heb. 2:3). It was ‘among the thorns’. Peter proclaimed the kingdom (Acts 3:18:26) and repeated the call to national repentance, still the abiding condition of national blessing. But the seed was choked. Thus the ‘thousands of Jews’ who at first ‘received the word’, became ‘all zealous of the law’, rather than Christ and the kingdom (Acts 21:20, Gal. 1:3-5, 10-13; 4:9; 5:1-4). This sowing came to a crisis in Acts 28 when the kingdom was ultimately rejected and has been in abeyance since.
The fourth sowing is in the future. It is the ‘holy seed’ that is to be sown after long desolation in answer to the prophet’s cry ‘how long?” (Isaiah 6:11-13). When will it be sown? Some see it happening in a matter of days just prior to the tribulation. However, those who have been led into an understanding of the soon coming Day of Christ, the next major event on God’s pre-ordained dispensational calendar, see it as occurring during this centuries-display of Christ in his kingdom glory. ‘And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity; and out of darkness’ (Isaiah 29:18).
In Matt. 24:14 the Lord specifically stated that the gospel of the kingdom would be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations; ‘and then the end shall come’. Is it being proclaimed in the all the world today? Is it being ‘preached to every creature’ (Mark 16:15) now? The answer is, no. Today it is the ‘the grace of God which bringeth salvation’ and that ‘hath appeared unto all men’ (Titus 2:12) that is being preached. Today, in these ‘due times,’ God is manifesting Himself only through the word (of grace) committed unto Paul the Apostle and written down by him in his epistles (Titus 1:3).
And Titus 2:12-13 makes plain that this gospel of the grace of God is teaching us that right now we should, ‘live soberly, righteously and godly, looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ’.
This is why in 2 Tim. 4:1 the Apostle Paul speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ ‘who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom’. Now, it should be obvious that this kingdom cannot come unless first the good news of its coming is first preached worldwide.
This successful harvest proclamation, with a one hundredfold return, I submit, will occur at Christ’s appearing to usher in the Day of Christ. It is then that the light of the glory of Christ will blaze forth upon all men. It is then that the deaf will hear the good news of his kingdom; it is then that the eyes of the blind shall see out of darkness to perceive the truth of the heavenly Saviour and King. It is then, for the first time in history, that the seed sown will fall into good ground and bring forth fruit ‘some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold and some thirtyfold’.
To be continued.