Thursday, March 3, 2016

An Optimistic View of the Kingdom: Part 1

When we talk about having an optimistic view of the Kingdom of God, we are discussing an idea of a future reality or eschatology. The word eschatology means the study of last things or end things or last day things. When we discuss an optimistic view of eschatology, we are talking about postmillennialism. Ken Gentry on defines postmillennialism as:

Postmillennialism holds that the Lord Jesus Christ establishes his kingdom on earth through his preaching and redemptive work in the first century and that he equips his Church with the gospel, empowers her by the Spirit, and charges her with the Great Commission to disciple all nations. Postmillennialism expects that eventually the vast majority of men living will be saved. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of men and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions the Lord will return visibly, bodily, and gloriously, to end history with the general resurrection and the final judgment after which the eternal order follows.

There are various views of eschatology in the Church today and varieties within those genres themselves. It is not my desire to study the individual views for that would simply be a Bible Study, but I want to look further into what we proclaim to believe at Christ Covenant Church. Some other views try to make themselves out to be optimistic for they do not like being called pessimistic, but in view of what they believe, there is nothing about the future of the Church that is productive, growing or victorious. Their victory is not even in the return of Christ, but just an eternity with Him. Matthew 16:18-19 (ESV) says:

18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

There is much more to the Church than waiting around for the Lord’s return. When studying eschatology, we are looking at our view of the Kingdom of God and over the next few articles that means we will look at a passage that speaks directly about the Kingdom of God in Matthew 13. So, let us set the stage regarding the Kingdom of God. Matthew 13:24-30 (ESV) reads:

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

First, He that sows the good seed is Jesus Christ. All good seed in the world comes from Christ. When ascended on high He gave gifts to the world; not only to good ministers, but also good men. He has given man the responsibility to sow good seed, but the success of the seed is determined by Jesus Christ and not man.

Secondly, the field is the world. The world is not only a field, but it is Christ’s field and one that is capable of yielding good fruit.

Thirdly, the good seed are the children of the Kingdom. These are the true saints, not in profession only. Matthew 8:10-12 (ESV) says:

“Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

They are the good and precious seed. “He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:6). The seed are the substance of the field and therefore holy seed. They are holy because they proceed from Christ. “And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump (Isaiah 6:13). The seed are scattered and so are the saints. The saints like seed are dispersed throughout the world here and there and some in greater and thicker pockets than others. It is from this seed that God alone has sown that fruit is expected. Hosea 2:21-23 says:

21 “And in that day I will  answer, declares the Lord, I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth, 22 and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer Jezreel, 23 and I will sow her for myself in the  and. And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’”

Fourthly, the tares are the children of the wicked one. This describes the character of sinners, hypocrites, and all profane and wicked people. They are children of the devil. They don’t bear his name, but yet they bear his image, do his lusts, and from him they have their education. He rules over them and works in them. Ephesians 2:1-3 says:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

John 8:43-44 tell us:

43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

They are tares in the field of this world. They do no good, but cause hurt. They are unprofitable,  in and of themselves, and hurtful to the good seed, both by temptation and persecution. They are weeds in the garden that get the same rain, sunshine and soil alongside the good plants but they are good for nothing. They are among the wheat as God has ordered it so that the good may be exercised and the evil left inexcusable and revealing a difference between heaven and the earth.

Fifthly, the enemy that sowed the tares is the devil. He is the sworn enemy to Christ and all that is good, to the glory of the good God, and the comfort and happiness of all good men. He is an enemy to God’s field and seeks to make it his own by sowing tares in it. He seeks to sow and promote wickedness.

Now let us take a closer look at the sowing of the tares and the significance surrounding it.

First, the tares were sown while men slept. The civil magistrates slept, who by their God given power should have prevented this wickedness. The ministers of the Gospel slept, who by their preaching should have prevented this wickedness. Satan looks for opportunities, when men are off their guard and lack vigilance. Psalm 104:20-23 says:

20 You make darkness, and it is night, when all the beasts of the forest creep about. 21 The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God. 22 When the sun rises, they steal away and lie down in their dens. 23 Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening.

1 Peter 5:8 tells us to, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

Second, notice that the enemy sowed the tares and then went away (Matthew 13:25). Satan’s work is done in concealment in order that his work not be discovered. 2 Corinthians 11:12-15 reads:

12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

The weed that is left doesn’t need tending. It just needs to be sown and it will bear the fullness of its iniquity over time.

Third, the tares do not reveal themselves until their fruit becomes visible (Matthew 13:26). There is a great deal of secret wickedness in the hearts of men, which is often hidden behind man’s self-profession. In fact, often it is hard to distinguish between the wheat and tares at first, but the reality cannot be hidden for long until they are revealed by their fruit. It is by the testing of hard times that each will be revealed and you will distinguish between the sincere and the hypocrite.

Fourth, so often, when the tares are revealed we complain to God (Matthew 13:27). Without any doubt, God has sown good seed in His field and it is not Christ that has sown bad seed. Matthew Henry wrote:

The rise of errors, the breaking out of scandals, and the growth of profaneness, are matter of great grief to all the servants of Christ; especially to his faithful ministers, who are directed to complain of it to him whose the field is. It is sad to see such tares, such weeds, in the garden of the Lord; to see the good soil wasted, the good seed choked, and such a reflection cast on the name and honour of Christ, as if his field were no better than the field of the slothful, all grown over with thorns.

Fifth, God knows who has sown the tares. “He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this’” (Matthew 13:28). God does not lay blame on His faithful servants for the tares that were sown in His field. The ministers of Christ who are faithful and diligent will not be judged by Christ and therefore should not bear the reproach of Christian men as Matthew Henry puts it, “for the mixtures of bad with good, hypocrites with the sincere, in the field of the church…Though they sleep, if they do not love sleep; though tares be sown, if they do not sow them nor water them, nor allow of them, the blame shall not lie at their door.”

Sixth, servants of God have a great zeal for the tares to be removed to the Church’s detriment. “ …So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’” (Matthew 13:28). We need to recognize the over-hasty and inconsiderate zeal we sometimes have as Christ’s servants to root out all that we presume to be tares without actually consulting our Lord. We do this to our own detriment as His Church.

Seventh, notice that our Lord prevents us from taking action on this faulty zealousness. “But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them” (Matthew 13:29). The Lord prevents us from doing so because it is impossible for us as men to distinguish between the wheat and the tares infallibly. It is by the wisdom and grace of Christ, that He will permit the tares, in order that the wheat may not be harmed. Without a doubt, those who openly are sinful and unrepentant are to be placed under church discipline and censured. We must though caution ourselves in long lasting discipline if repentance is evident, because the point of discipline is restoration or acceptance. We must do so with meekness. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 reads:

24 And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Eighth, the harvest is at the end of the world (Matthew 13:39). Galatians 6:7-8 tells us:

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

 Proverbs 20:4 goes on saying, “The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.” It is the lazy person that doesn’t focus on the end goal. The harvest doesn’t come until some time later, not just moments after the seed is planted. John 5:25-29 reads:

25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

Ninth, the reapers of the harvest are the angels, not men; not you, not me, not elders, nor sessions or presbyterys. “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn....The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels” (Matthew 13:30, 39).

Tenth, the tares will be bundled and cast into hell. Matthew 13:30, 40-42 says:

30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned…40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Eleventh, the Lord’s wheat from across time and the world will be gathered into God’s barn (Matthew 13:30, 43). At some point in time, God will gather all his wheat, all His saints from across time, into His barn, which is heaven. We will be gathered together will live in new heaven and new earth in the fulfillment of His Kingdom work.

Notice that life for the Christian here and now is not devoid of hardship. But notice something very important, a harvest is coming and we get to be a part of sowing God’s good seeds. Although there might be tares, there will be a greater harvest. The tares don’t stunt the growth of the Kingdom of God nor do they hinder it. Just as the wheat grows, so does God’s Kingdom grow. The Kingdom is not weakened by Satan’s attacks for Satan is already defeated and Christ’s Kingdom is victorious!

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