David Grabbe, taking issue with nominal Christianity's faulty doctrine of dominion theology (the belief that it is the Church's responsibility to spread God's Kingdom before Jesus Christ returns), using the "kingdom as leaven" parable as proof, takes apart this fallacious reasoning. We are correct to understand God's Kingdom (basilea) as a present reality, as Jesus the King stands among men, as well as a future reality, as when the glorified Jesus Christ will establish His Kingdom, putting down all human government. In the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers, the "kingdom" refers to the national kingdom, which would be taken from the chief priests, elders, and Pharisees. This usage informs the first four parables of Matthew 13 (the Sower and the Seed, the Wheat and the Tares, the Mustard Seed, and the Leaven). The history of God's relationship with His people has been troubling, His own ultimately rejecting Him and attempting to usurp His rightful power. For that reason, the parables forecast God's removal of power from physical Israel and His handing the keys of the Kingdom handed to the Church. The first four kingdom parables of Matthew 13 address the deficient and soon-to-become defunct physical kingdom, while the last four parables address the emergent spiritual kingdom. In the next installment of this message, we will delve into the significance of the Leaven parable.
With the new year invariably come New Year's resolutions—and days or weeks later, a great deal of failure in keeping them! The idea of making resolutions to improve oneself is commendable, but we should carefully consider the kind of resolutions we make. Ronny Graham suggests that we take up godly resolutions, so that we "put on" the righteous character of the new man.
The subjects of God's calling and predestination can be confusing at times, especially the idea that many are called but few are chosen. Why does God not just choose everyone? John Reid explores the Parable of the Wedding Feast to discover some answers to these vital questions.
Jesus Christ's Olivet Prophecy provides a handful of specific signs of His return, one of which seems particularly obscure. David Grabbe analyzes His saying, "Wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together," in Matthew 24:28, explaining that it is a warning that Jesus will come back in judgment against those who resist Him.
Richard Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Matthew 23 and 24, suggests that Matthew is in the habit of presenting Jesus' teachings on a given topic all in one place in the Bible, presenting the teachings from a decidedly Jewish point of view, demonstrating the ability of Jesus to thwart the insidious challenges of the Pharisees, as well as offering proofs of His Messiahship. The parables of the two sons, the wedding feast, and the wicked vine dressers all castigate Israel for rejecting God's messengers and the Messiah, calling for eight woes, rendering physical Israel and the Temple (symbol of Israel's splendor) totally desolate and uninhabited. In short, the nation of Israel would fall. We must be sure, as Christians and members of the Israel of God, not to miss the object lesson to us. God is no respecter of persons; He is a God of equity and fairness. God is not a soft-headed pushover who will accept us, sins and all; He does not budge one inch for sin. As God dealt with our disobedient forbears, He will deal with us in the exact same way if we stray from the truth, breaking His commandments. God is not mocked; what we sow is what we will reap. God's patience is long, but He will reach a boiling point when He will clean the slate, including disobedient members of His own church. God is a God of mercy, but He has a stiff core of justice which will not be placated unless we repent. To whom much has been given, much will be required.
Continuing to show the biblical parallels to marriage, Part Two highlights the story of Boaz and Ruth, the cup of betrothal, and the Marriage Supper itself, asking, "Are we committed to this wonderful relationship with our Fiance?"
Jesus exposes the Jews' rejection of the gospel using the illustration of a king sending invitations to a wedding celebration. Though God is shown to be merciful and just, the invitees' character is revealed to be wanting.
John Ritenbaugh debunks the foolish notion that it does not matter what we wear if our heart is right on the inside. Our clothing as well as our outward conduct must match what is going on in our inner heart or being. Our clothing, often symbolizing righteousness, ought to reflect or symbolize our inward character. We are admonished to dress up to the standards that God finds acceptable. Old Testament examples of the importance of dressing up before God or when we enter His presence include Jacob, Moses, Aaron, and Aaron's sons. When God entered into a marriage covenant with Israel, He dressed her up in quality clothing, but when Israel played the harlot, her seductive clothing became a symbol of defiance against God. As Aaron and his priestly sons were commanded to wear special clothing symbolizing purity and righteousness, we as a forming kingdom of priests, must give attention to our clothing as it symbolizes our inward spiritual character and submissiveness to God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that only God, not man, can determine whether something or someone is holy or authentic as opposed to profane and strange. God will accept only what He has set apart or designated as holy or authentic, such as the sacred fire in Numbers 16 (symbolizing God's cleansing and purifying power) as well as the fuel and the incense. The 250 men offering strange or profane fire in their censers represented a blatant refusal to accept God and His standard of righteousness. The bronze covered altar made with the censers recovered from the charred remains of the rebels constitutes a stark reminder of the folly at rebelling against holy things, replacing God's standards with human standards.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the book of Mark, emphasizing the symbolism of the ox, whose enduring servitude and sacrifice produces a great deal in the way of growth. Downplaying or understating kingly authority or lordship (the hallmark of Matthew) Mark concentrates on the uncomplaining and sacrificing traits of a servant. Jesus sets a pattern for us by serving without thought of authority, power, position, status, fame, or gain, but as a patient, enduring, faithful servant, practicing good will and providing a role model of pure religion (James 1:27) for us to emulate.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that chapter 21 describes Jesus Christ's public announcement of His Messiah-ship, when the crowds would select Him to be the Paschal sacrificial Lamb of God. After overturning the money changer's tables and cursing the fig tree, Jesus relates a parable about a man (symbolizing God) who planted a vineyard (symbolizing Israel and Judah), turning it over to some husbandmen (symbolizing the religious leaders who were responsible for the education of the nation), who later proved to be unfaithful, beating the owners servants (symbolizing the prophets) and killing the owner's son (symbolizing Jesus Christ). The responsibility for tending the vineyard was removed from those wicked husbandmen (symbolizing the priests and Pharisees) and given to new servants who would tend it faithfully, bringing about quality fruit replacing physical Israel with the Israel of God- or the Church. If the Church fails in its responsibility, God will take it away again and give it to someone who will bring forth fruit. When God gives us a responsibility, He gives us all the tools we need to carry it out as well as the freedom to decide how best to do it. God wants to see how we do with what we have been given. As future kings, we must learn how to solve problems. We are going to be accountable for the outcome. Jesus Christ as the cornerstone of the Kingdom of God will either be a sanctuary or a stumbling block or grinding stone to those leaders, peoples, or nations He encounters. We cannot allow the cares of the world to run interference with our calling. Spiritual goals, including nurturing our spouses and families, have to come first. Prayer and Bible study must be regarded as our lifeblood in establishing a relationship with God. Walking by faith (rather than walking by sight) will help us establish the right priorities. Our betrothal to Christ at this time does not have a specific date for the actual marriage; we must be prepared at all times. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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