The Big Picture of God’s Kingdom
Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? To what can I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that a man tossed into his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.” (Luke 13:18-19, BSB)
And again He said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” (Luke 13:20-21, NKJV)
I’d like today to give you the big picture of the kingdom of God. Why did Jesus come? Why did he leave? What are we supposed to do while he’s gone? We find this big picture expressed in a parable in Luke 19:11-27 (CEB).
11 As they listened to this, Jesus told them another parable because he was near Jerusalem and they thought God’s kingdom would appear right away. 12 He said, “A certain man who was born into royalty went to a distant land to receive his kingdom and then return. 13 He called together ten servants and gave each of them money worth four months’ wages.[b] He said, ‘Do business with this until I return.’ 14 His citizens hated him, so they sent a representative after him who said, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ 15 After receiving his kingdom, he returned and called the servants to whom he had given the money to find out how much they had earned. 16 The first servant came forward and said, ‘Your money has earned a return of one thousand percent.’ 17 The king replied, ‘Excellent! You are a good servant. Because you have been faithful in a small matter, you will have authority over ten cities.’
18 “The second servant came and said, ‘Master, your money has made a return of five hundred percent.’ 19 To this one, the king said, ‘You will have authority over five cities.’
20 “Another servant came and said, ‘Master, here is your money. I wrapped it up in a scarf for safekeeping. 21 I was afraid of you because you are a stern man. You withdraw what you haven’t deposited and you harvest what you haven’t planted.’ 22 The king replied, ‘I will judge you by the words of your own mouth, you worthless servant! You knew, did you, that I’m a stern man, withdrawing what I didn’t deposit, and harvesting what I didn’t plant? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money in the bank? Then when I arrived, at least I could have gotten it back with interest.’
24 “He said to his attendants, ‘Take his money and give it to the one who has ten times as much.’ 25 ‘But Master,’ they said, ‘he already has ten times as much!’ 26 He replied, ‘I say to you that everyone who has will be given more, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 As for my enemies who don’t want me as their king, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’”
The Kingdom of God Comes in Progressively
First, note that the disciples thought that God’s kingdom would appear immediately. That is, they thought that Jesus would immediately set up his reign over the earth. But, Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like leaven that works its way through the dough. Leaven is simply sourdough starter. It is a small, yeasty ball of dough that you add to your main ball of dough. And you work it in, then let it sit, and it quickly doubles and triples in size. By this parable, Jesus shows that the kingdom is progressively brought in. It doesn’t drop down from heaven and show up all at once. Now, Jesus told this parable in Luke 19 to let his disciples know that it would be they, and not Jesus, who did this work of progressively bringing in the kingdom while Jesus was away.
The Parable’s Context Reveals what “Business” the King Leaves to His Servants
Second, to understand what is meant by this kingdom, we have to look at the context. Specifically, we have to look at what Jesus was doing. The book of Luke begins with the conception, prophesies, and birth of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Swiftly, by chapter 4, we move into Jesus’ ministry. Jesus described his ministry as follows,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19, CEB).
This is the first recorded teaching of Jesus in the book of Luke. It is how Luke introduces the work and teaching of Jesus.
We then see Jesus actually doing these things. From Luke 4 on to about Luke 10, we see Jesus calming a storm on the sea; casting out demons; healing the sick; feeding the five thousand; and sending out the 12 and then the 72. Beginning around chapter 10, and going through chapter 20, we find recorded almost exclusively Jesus speaking about the kingdom of God. So these 10 chapters are introduced, as it were, by the miracle-working power of God on the earth to set men and women free of every bondage and oppression of the devil. They are set free from the power of sin, the power of demons, the power of sickness and illness. They are set free from hunger. It is plain that now is the time of the Lord’s favor.
Now, when we come to this parable in Luke 19, we understand that Jesus is speaking of himself when he says, “a certain man was born into royalty” and he went to a distant land to receive his kingdom and then return. By receiving the kingdom and returning, we understand the Second Coming, or return of Christ, when he will physically reign on the earth. But, until he returns, he wants his servants to continue the work that he started. So he calls his servants together, gives them his money, and tells them to do business until he returns.
Now, what are we to understand is this business? Is it that we’re just supposed to tell sinners that Jesus died for them, and it’s not our fault if we have little to no success? Is it that we’re supposed to “bring people to Jesus,” meaning, get them to make a profession of faith, start attending church regularly, and read their Bibles? What would the disciples have understood this business to be?
Well, whatever the disciples had seen Jesus doing, they would understand to be his business. And what had they seen him do? They had seen him preach, pray, heal, cast out demons, forgive sins, raise the dead, and make disciples.
They had always known Jesus to live and walk in both power and righteousness. They did not know of a Jesus, or of a gospel, without power. They did not know of a Christianity without revival. So when they heard this parable, they understood that they were to be doing the same things that Jesus had done. They were to do the exact things that Jesus would do, if he were still there. They were to take care of his business—or in other parables, his vineyard—in the place of Jesus, as if Jesus himself were taking care of it.
As they take care of the Lord’s business, they know that Jesus is going to return and take an account. He’s going to come back and want to see that they were successful; that they were fruitful. That they did indeed build the kingdom, grow the crop, trade the money.
He wants to see that they built the kingdom while he was gone, the way that he would have built it if he had been there.
Jesus said this most forcibly on the night of the Last Supper, just before he was arrested, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).
Doing the Works Jesus Did
Now, how are we to do the works that Jesus did? How are we to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, speak in other languages, and make disciples of all nations? How are we to bring God’s kingdom to the earth, as it is in heaven? Well, it is possible only by the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.
And this is where our other two Scriptures about the kingdom come in. Jesus came as the first “mustard seed.” He said that he would fall to the ground and die, and as a result bear much fruit (John 12:24). By this he meant that his death and resurrection would allow for the Holy Spirit and fire to be sent to anyone who would “ask” (Luke 11:13) and “obey” (Acts 5:32) God.
The kingdom of God began, in its seed form, when Jesus was baptized in the Holy Spirit and began his ministry. Even during his lifetime, he began to give this power to others—notably the 12 and the 70, as he sent them out to villages, towns, and cities.
However, the New Covenant promise from God is, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Joel 2:28). That is, all who will “ask” and “obey” God will receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. It is not only for a select few, for prophets, for men, or for adults.
This pouring out began on the Day of Pentecost, when the 120 in the upper room were baptized in the Holy Spirit and fire. Then, through their combined efforts and the preaching of Peter, they added another 3,000 to the church that very day. All these 3,000 likewise received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Peter said, “Repent therefore, and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Forgiveness of Sins in Jesus?
Let me answer a question here that you may be thinking, which is, doesn’t the Bible say that we have the forgiveness of sins through Jesus? What about when Jesus forgave the sins of the paralyzed man who was let down through the roof of the house?
Originally, John the Baptist “gave [the Lord’s] people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:77, NIV). That is, we would say that those who were baptized by John were, “saved.” Their sins were forgiven, they were walking clean and in righteousness before God, and they had fled “from the wrath to come” (Luke 3:7, ESV). However, John the Baptist’s ministry was limited in time (he was beheaded shortly after Jesus began his ministry), and spatially, that is, he was mostly confined to the people of Israel. Today, as we see in Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, the death and resurrection of Jesus allows for the repentance and remission (forgiveness/removal) of sins for all who could not be baptized by John the Baptist. But, though we receive this through Jesus, it still remains the “preparation” to receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.
This same concept is expressed again by Peter when he preaches to the crowd after healing the lame man outside the temple. Peter says, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus…For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.” (Acts 3:19-23, NIV).
Again, here, the repentance and removal of sins is the “preparation” to receiving the Messiah, who is Jesus. To refuse to receive Jesus as the king whom God has appointed, and to love and obey him as the King of Heaven, is to reject God entirely. And all such will be “completely cut off,” that is, their soul will be eternally lost, and they will be cast into eternal fire on the day of judgment. This is why we see over and over throughout the gospels that Jesus declares that anyone who does not believe in him will not be saved. He is not speaking primarily about belief in order to obtain remission of sins. He is speaking about the belief that God appointed him to be the king of heaven and earth, the judge of the living and the dead. Jesus said,
He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:18-21)
Note here that Jesus said that everyone who does evil hates the light (Jesus), and will not come into the light. That is, they will not submit to Jesus. They will not receive Jesus as the King of Heaven and Earth. They will not receive him as their Lord. But everyone who practices, or does, the truth does comes to the light, so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.
Now, what we see here is the division between those who have already repented and are righteous, and those who have refused to repent and remain evil. Jesus is saying that those who have refused to repent—those who refused the baptism of John—those who still do evil; that these people will not receive him as their king. But, those have repented, who do love the truth, who do what is right, who live righteous lives; these people will gladly receive him as the Messiah. They will gladly receive Jesus as the one sent by God. This is why “repent and believe” always go together. Jesus said that if your deeds were evil, you would not come to him. In other words, if you have not repented, you will not believe. Likewise, if you have repented, it is because you’ve set your heart to love God, and you will gladly receive Jesus. You cannot repent and then not believe; nor can you believe without repenting. And, to return to our point, those who believe in Jesus will receive the baptism, or gift, of the Holy Spirit.
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit Enables Us to Do Jesus’ Business While He Is Away
Receiving this gift of the Holy Spirit is part of the bigger picture. It’s not just for my own personal spiritual growth. To return to our leaven image, Jesus was the yeast, or leaven, that was added to the lump of dough. On the day of Pentecost, we see a strong leavening action. We see a multiplication first as the 120 receive the Holy Spirit and fire, and then again as the 3,000 receive it. And then throughout the book of Acts, we see the continued multiplication of the church.
While there is opposition to this church, even as there was to Jesus, by and large we see entire communities brought under the Lordship of Jesus. The gospel narratives of Jesus’ ministry, as well as the book of Acts, give us examples of what it looks like for the kingdom of God to come to the earth. For example, at Ephesus the turning to the Lord was so powerful that the modern-day equivalent of millions of dollars of occult books were burnt publicly (Acts 19:19). In Jerusalem, “large numbers of both men and women” “were brought to the Lord,” and “crowds gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and ALL of them were healed” (Acts 5:14-16, BSB).
This onward advance of the kingdom continued for centuries. When the Emperor Julian attempted to revive the pagan beliefs and practices of the Roman empire in the mid-300s, he was infuriated because he struggled to find people who even knew how to make the pagan offerings, or perform their rituals. So we see that within 300 years, the church had so thoroughly eradicated paganism from the Roman Empire that it was impossible to bring it back.
When we read of recent or modern-day revivals, we see the same kind of advance. During the Welsh revival, crime so stopped that the courts were emptied. Judges had no cases to hear. Bars closed for lack of business. Former drunkards became church leaders and formed prayer and Bible study meetings.
Today, a revival would look something like this. Mosques would close because so many Muslims would be converting to Christ. Or, they would turn their own mosque into a church. Grocery stores would stop selling Halal meat, alcohol, lottery tickets, and tobacco, because no one would buy it. Gyms would stop playing worldly music and music videos. At gyms, coffee shops, grocery stores, on the metro, on the bus—everyone would be talking about Jesus, his kingdom, the revival, their own testimonies, and people they knew who had been healed, converted, or delivered from demons.
Now this is the very thing that Jesus expects. It is the reason he came. It IS the gospel. It is the sure, primary will of God.
God’s Motive Is Love
Let me say here that God’s purpose to redeem the earth is motivated by love. John 3:16-17 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (BSB). Is not this a wonderful basis of prayer for worldwide revival? But let me dig into this a bit.
First, we are apt to think in the church things like this. “It would be nice if God healed the sick, but the salvation of their soul is more important.” Let’s stop. Did Jesus ever say anything like this? Did Jesus ever model this? Does anything in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John indicate that Jesus felt or behaved this way? On the contrary, we see Jesus stay up the entire night healing people at the home of Peter’s mother-in-law.
Moreover, even sinners are willing to go to great lengths to alleviate the suffering of those they love. Which of you who are parents has seen your child sick, and not been willing to do anything in your power to help them? Or which of us has seen a man sitting in a wheelchair with no legs, begging on the side of the street, and hasn’t felt a moving of compassion?
Even if the person is mean, dirty, or rude—we still feel that we want to help them. We wish their legs could grow back. We wish we could help them get clean, get a home. We see them sitting outside in the hot sun, and we want to give them water. We see them in the rain, and think, “They must be desperate, to be out in this weather. They must be cold and shivering.” We see them in the cold winter weather and think, “That jacket doesn’t look very warm. He doesn’t have any gloves or a hat. I’m going to bring him some.” This person could curse you out to our face, and you would probably still give them water, or gloves, or a hat, or food.
Now, if this is how we feel—and even sinners often feel this way—how much more does God feel for those who are maimed, crippled, afflicted with cancer, insane, homeless, or abused? And not only that, but God has the power to heal them. Are we to have such a merciless view of God that we think he wouldn’t heal a sick person simply because their soul is more important? There are a number of examples in the Scripture of Jesus healing people who did not become his disciples, or in some cases even thank him (Luke 17:11-19). And we see in revivals, like the revival in Argentina, that people were healed who never went on to become Christians. Why?
Because God loves everything that he made. God “loved the world” (John 3:16). He loves the poorest street child and the richest billionaire; he loves the birds, and the stars, and the rain; he loves the flowers, the rainforests, the fish, the lakes and mountains. God takes no delight in any kind of suffering, in disease, in poverty or hunger. And he sent his Son to “save the world” from these things, even as he sent his Son to save souls. And now the church is here in the stead of Christ, in the place of Christ, and we’re to have the power that Jesus had to heal, as well as the power of God in us to convict and save souls, and we’re to provide for the temporal needs of people, even to go so far as to “sell our possessions and give to those in need” (Luke 12:33, CEB).
You may ask, “Doesn’t the Bible say that the soul of the Lord hates the wicked?” Yes, the Psalms indicate that the soul of the Lord does hate the wicked, because they destroy the love and goodness that God made (Psalm 11:5). However, the Lord doesn’t delight in the death of the wicked. He wants the wicked to turn to righteousness and live (Ezekiel 33:11). The ultimate manifestation of God’s love was to send his Son to destroy SIN so that he would not have to destroy sinners.
Moreover, it pleases God to destroy any form of evil. Though it would be preferable for an individual soul to be saved and healed, or saved and freed, the example of Jesus seems to indicate that God is more pleased by an individual being healed and not saved, than not being healed or saved at all. For example, it pleased God to free blacks from slavery in the United States, even though each person freed did not receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
The Big Picture
Oh, how I wish you would get this view! Jesus cares about a full and total redemption. He did not come to destroy the earth. He didn’t come just to save some souls, and then let sickness and poverty and violence ravage the great mass of humanity. He didn’t come to save a predetermined number of elect, write off the rest of the world as a lost cause, and then destroy the earth and start over. He didn’t say, “Well, the devil got it, and now it’s a lost cause. There’s nothing I can do to make the world righteous again. I can’t make obedience to God the norm, and disobedience the exception. There’s nothing I can do to make mankind love me and love each other. There’s nothing I can do to end sin on the earth. I’ll just have to destroy it and start over.”
Why is it nearly 2,000 years after the cross, and children are having their eyes gouged out by ISIS? This should not be! Jesus has “destroyed,” “condemned,” and “cast out” the devil. Jesus came to save everything that was lost in the fall. And for this end, sin must be destroyed, and obedience to God must become the rule—because sin always lead to destruction, and obedience to God is “love,” and is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” How I wish that you would catch the vision of God’s love and compassion for mankind! And if you catch it, you will pray with confidence for the power of the Holy Spirit, and enter the kingdom of God with burning zeal. And you will do everything you can in the power of God to save souls, to end suffering and poverty, to heal the sick, to end sin in society, and to end sin in the human heart by turning them to God!
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