Everlasting Kingdom: Unraveling the Bible’s Secrets

Another Perspective on Parables

The Real Purpose Of [Biblical] Parables

Jordan River

Article Preview: The account hiding behind this humble sounding title really makes crystal clear the purpose for seven of Yeshua’s (Jesus’) parables. I seriously doubt that you have considered anything like this before. Are the so-called Parables of the Kingdom really just fuzzy notions about the coming Kingdom, or could they have to do with the present realities of our time?

 

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When it comes to a number of the parables and various analogies utilized by the Messiah during His ministry, because of their seeming storybook nature, we often gloss over them, assuming that, of course, we understand such simplistic language—when, in fact, this may not be the case at all!

The use of parables was a typical and very familiar tool of first-century Jewish teaching methodology. The people who actually heard such analogies from the rabbis would not have taken it in a literal sense the way many modern readers of the Bible might tend to do. They understood the parabolic nature of such a story. The Messiah, as you know, often utilized parables, but there is some confusion as to why He did so, because it is assumed by many that the real reason was not to reveal truth, but rather to hide it. Note, however, the following:

“All these things spoke Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spoke He not unto them: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 13:34-35).

This passage from the New Testament quotes only a portion of an ancient prophecy written by David. To get the full meaning of what is being said here requires that we read the original words found in Psalm 78:17

“Give ear, 0 My people, to My Law: incline your ears to the words of My mouth. I will open My mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old—which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will NOT HIDE them from their children, SHOWING to the generations to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength, and His wonderful works that He has done” (Psalm 78:1-3).

The use of parables is, therefore, to reveal truth, not conceal it. But haven’t you heard that the Messiah said just the opposite? Yes, you have, and the reason originates from a passage in Matthew 13, which we need to explore.

Yahshua [actually Yeshua] is teaching by the Sea of Galilee, and the crowds are large, so large, in fact, that He is forced to abandon His seat on the shore and climb into a nearby boat. He then begins His discourse by telling the now well known parable of the sower. When He finishes, the disciples ask Him:

“Why do You speak to them in parables?” (Matthew 13:10).

Now, why do you suppose Christ’s closest followers ask such a question at this juncture in His ministry? There is a certain false impression that many of us have, and it is that the Messiah used parables from the outset, but this is not the case. In fact, if you go back through the preceding chapters of Matthew, you will find that the story of the sower is the first instance of His telling a parable. So, there is a definite reason why He suddenly chooses to start this practice. Perhaps we can discern the cause in His answer to the disciples. He says:

“Because it is given unto you [the disciples] to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them [the multitudes] it is not given. For whosoever has, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever has not, from him shall be taken away even that he has . Therefore I speak to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which says, By hearing you shall not bear, and shall not understand; and seeing you shall not see, and shall not perceive: for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear” (Matthew 13:11-16).

At first glance, this response may appear to contradict the earlier passage stating that Yahshua spoke in parables to reveal that which had been hidden. Here He seems to say that the parables actually hide the meaning of His teaching. How do we resolve this apparent conflict?

First, note carefully His response is that it has been given to the disciples to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but that to the multitudes it has not been given. What does this mean—that no one in the audience is even going to be granted the opportunity of understanding Christ’s words? This is almost certainly not the case. That it is at this precise point in His ministry that He begins using parables is a critical fact. From His answer to the disciples’ question, it appears that Yahshua is at a point in His ministry where He is forced to speak in parables, because the people have thus far hardened their hearts against His message. Their hardness of heart will not allow them to receive the full, direct impact of His words, therefore He chooses to speak to them in analogies, not to blind them, for they already had their eyes closed. It wasn’t really necessary that He purposely hide the truth from them. Consequently, He couches it in parables in hopes that some might consider His teaching.

Yahshua expounds the mysteries to the disciples, but to those who harden their hearts, He will then lure by a picture, a picture that conveys not a blunt revelation of the secret things, but a word portrait that is true to the profound teachings, but that takes the edge off the offensive directness of them. In other words, Christ decides on the use of parables as an alternate means of engaging the hardened hearts of others, or as it is written in Mark:

“Nothing is hidden except it be revealed, nor has anything been secret, but that it should come to light”. (Mark 4:22)

The Savior, therefore, hid the mysteries that would affront and offend by their directness, due to the hardness of the people’s hearts, and instead presented pictures those invite and suggest. It is essentially the last and only approach He can take and still positively offer the truth to the masses. The subject matter under discussion may not be stated rightly within the parable, but will always be involved. If anyone then is willing to consider just the picture, perhaps they will be compelled to inquire further. And if they do, then Christ will always be ready to lead them beyond where they are to the essence of the teaching behind the allegory.

It is the perpetual method of God to conceal offensive truth, but only so as to ultimately reveal it later or in a different manner. I submit to you that not only is this God’s way, and the course chosen by the Messiah, but it also should be our own approach in conveying truth to those whose hearts may be hardened, and thus not given to understanding and appreciating the impact that a direct presentation will undoubtedly produce. You might consider this principle when studying any of the other Biblical parables, Old or New Testament. Rather than focusing on the notion that the intent of the parable is to conceal the truth, think about it in terms of the explanation offered in this study. With that in mind, let’s turn our attention to several parables offered by Yahshua, the meaning of which may be different than the popularly accepted understanding.

LAZARUS AND THE RICH MAN

This is one of the most familiar examples of parabolic teaching in the New Testament. This particular story is absolutely rich in pertinent information for believers, and yet sadly it is known by most readers of the Bible only as the parable that proves the popular conception of a fluffy clouded heaven and an ever-burning hell fire! The passage is recorded in Luke 16, beginning in verse 19:

“There was a certain RICH MAN, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fare sumptuously every day . And there was a certain beggar named LAZARUS, who was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into ABRAHAM’S bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and sees Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom”. (Luke 16:19-23).

There are three characters involved in this story, the two mentioned in the title, Lazarus and a certain unnamed rich man, and the patriarch Abraham. Now keep in mind that this is a parable, and thus every single element is not necessarily intended to be taken literally, but rather figuratively, thus leading us to a deeper understanding of the teaching involved.

This particular parable is the only one in the gospel accounts that actually names some of the people involved. The man Lazarus is described in a subservient role. He is said to be a beggar and full of sores, desiring to be fed with merely the crumbs from the rich man’s table. The rich man, appropriately, is decked out in his finery and, as the Scripture states, fares sumptuously. In due time, Lazarus dies and is carried by angels into what is termed “the bosom of Abraham” (v. 22), whereas the rich man, upon his death, finds himself “in hell” (v. 23) and in torment.

To begin with, let’s deal with the simplest fact. The word translated hell in verse 23 is the Greek term “hades”, and does not refer to any kind of burning, fiery abode of the wicked, but simply the grave. In fact, at this point it would be proper to say that this story, in spite of some of its imagery, is not at all about what most people assume it to be. It has nothing whatsoever to do with either going to heaven or suffering eternally in hell-fire, both of which concepts are either outright erroneous and unsupportable by Scriptural evidence, or, at best, have been misunderstood and misapplied.

[The fact that Bibles translated from Greek texts use the word Hades (hell), the very name of the pagan Greek god of the “underworld”, is strong evidence that no part of the Bible was originally written in Greek! The envoys (apostles) would not have stooped that low. (See: Was the New Testament Really Written in Greek?) Both Aramaic and Hebrew use the word sheol when referring to the grave—the place where everyone awaits the resurrection on Judgment Day!—Daniel 12:2]

Most of us [in the anonymous writers audience] no longer believe that a loving God has arranged things so that the unrighteous people suffering eternal torment in the flames of Gehenna will be in plain viewing sight of the righteous. Therefore, this story is not about such a spectacle. In the picture being painted by Yahshua, the rich man is in full view of both Abraham and Lazarus. Indeed, he is even able to converse with the great patriarch for, beginning in verse 24, their conversation:

“And he cried, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this name”. (Luke 16:19-23).

Note that the rich man speaks only to Abraham, not to Lazarus. This is a little, but important, factor. He also requests merely a single drop of water, which in no way could possibly bring any measure of relief were he actually being burned alive in the flames. And rather than appeal for the water to be put somewhere on his supposed sizzling flesh, he asks that it be placed on his tongue. This makes one wonder just exactly what is on fire in this situation! Abraham responds by saying:

“Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and you are tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they who would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence” (Luke 16:25-26).

The rich man, now sensing that his own options may have expired, begs for Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house where his five brothers live, and testify to them, lest the same thing happen in their lives (vs. 27-28). Abraham replies that they have Moses and the prophets, that they should hear them (v. 29). The rich man in desperation shouts that only by the miraculous appearance of one raised from the dead would his kinfolk repent (v. 30), upon which Abraham speaks the final words of the story, saying that if they would not hear Moses and the prophets, they would not be persuaded by one who had been resurrected (v. 31). And now for the explanation.

First of all, we are given the personal names of two of the participants in the parable—Abraham and Lazarus. Abraham we know. He is the great patriarch, the father of the faithful, and the friend of God. But who is this Lazarus? Since he knows Abraham, is it possible that Abraham knew him as well? The answer would appear to be yes. We can establish this by realizing that the Greek word translated as Lazarus would, in Hebrew, be the name Eliezer or its variant Eleazar. In the first-century context of Yahshua’s ministry, this story is really about Eliezer (Eleazar) and the rich man.

Who then is Eliezer, and what significance, if any, does he have with respect to Abraham? Eliezer or Lazarus is a servant. Did Abraham have a servant? Of course, we know that he had a great retinue, many of them born in his own household (Genesis 14:14). Is there any chance then that Abraham may have actually had a servant by the name of Lazarus or Eliezer? According to Genesis 15, indeed this is precisely the case!

Recalling that Yahweh [actually Yehovah] has promised to make of him a great nation (Genesis 12:1-3), but has yet to give him a son, Abraham makes the following petition to God:

“Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the STEWARD of my house is this man ELIEZER OF DAMASCUS ... Behold, to me You have given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house [Eliezer] is MY HEIR”—Genesis 15:2-3.

What an interesting connection! Here we have the patriarch Abraham who just happens to have a chief servant (steward) by the name of Eliezer or Lazarus. Is this a coincidence or what? Not at all, because the parable told by Christ is centered on these two historical characters, and an unnamed rich man, whose identity we must also discern. Note that this Eliezer is not of Abrahamic lineage, but rather is of Syrian descent, a man of Damascus, and thus a gentile, and yet, at this point in time, he is the sole heir of his master Abraham.

Of course, we know how the story unfolds. It was not in God’s plan for Eliezer to be the direct inheritor of the Abrahamic covenant. This privilege, in fact, would not even be granted later to Ishmael, Abraham’s first son, but rather to Isaac, the son of promise—the son of faith. As it turns out, Abraham himself is led to disqualify Eliezer as heir by instructing him in Genesis 24:2-4 to go and find a wife for Isaac from among Abraham’s own kin. From the union between Isaac and Rebecca would come Jacob and the children of Israel. Eliezer, therefore, is cut out of the whole process, and, as a result, is described in the parable of Luke 16 as being in the state of a pitiful beggar with sores.

Thus far, we have Abraham, already well known to us as the father of the faithful, the one with whom the great covenant was made and to whom the promises were given, and now Eliezer or Lazarus, who is a type of the Gentile peoples of the world. Next, we must know who the rich man represents in the parable.

There are a couple of identifying factors. Note that the rich man seems to know Abraham. This is interesting. Indeed, it goes beyond that, for he calls him, Father (Luke 16:24). In other words, the rich man in question, unlike Eliezer or Lazarus, is of the family of Abraham. He is one of those who, during his lifetime, received the great blessings promised to Abraham, whereas Eliezer and his descendants fare far worse. Indeed, the rich man lives in the lap of luxury, and the family of Eliezer is forced to survive from the mere crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table. In the physical, the rich man has it made, and it becomes apparent that he cares little for Eliezer/Lazarus. In fact, the servant is described in terms of a rank, mangy dog, one of the very derogatory terms later used by the Jews in reference to the Gentiles, which is, in reality, a clue as to who the rich man exemplifies in this parable.

To further pin down his identity, take a look at verses 27-28, which reads:

“Then he said, I pray you therefore, father (Abraham), that you would send him [Eliezer/Lazarus] to my father’s house: for I have FIVE BROTHERS; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment”—Luke 16:27-28.

The rich man has five brothers. This is most interesting, and becomes even more so when we read the following two passages from the book of Genesis:

“And Leah [wife of Jacob] said, God has endued me with a good dowry; now will my husband dwell with me, because I have born him SIX SONS”—Genesis 30:20.

“The sons of Leah; Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Zebulun”—Genesis 35:23.

The fact that the rich man involved has five brothers indicates that this parable has implications for the entirety of Israel, although specifically the rich man is Judah, the ruling tribe of Israel, the kingly line, of whom it is said:

“Judah, you are he whom your brethren shall praise: your hand shall be in the neck of your enemies; your father’s children shall bow down before you .... The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be .... His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk”—Genesis 49:9,10,12.

That Judah is the rich man is further confirmed by the fact that his character in the parable is not only rich, but is arrayed in purple (Luke 16:19), the color of royalty. He is a king. His garments are also of white linen (Luke 16:19), typical of the priestly robes. Both of these elements are to be found only in Judah, because the ruling Davidic house sprang from this tribe, and the Levitical priesthood was centered in the southern kingdom of Judah and preserved there until the fall of the Temple in 70 AD.

And, as a final bit of evidence, we also are told that the rich man in the parable has “Moses and the prophets” (Luke 16:29), which immediately brings to mind the words of the apostle Paul when he says in Romans 3:

“What advantage then has the Jew? Or what profit is there of circumcision? Much in every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the ORACLES OF GOD” (Romans 3:1-2).

So we now know the key players—Abraham, father of the faithful; Eliezer/Lazarus, symbolic of the Gentiles; and Judah, possessor of both the kingship and priesthood of Israel. There is still another aspect of the parable, however, that needs to be explained, and that is the fact that between the rich man and Eliezer/Lazarus there exists a great gulf, so that no one can pass over from one side to the other.

According to the late Dr. Ernest Martin, some of whose insight I have profited from in this study, it is representative of an actual geographic feature in Palestine, namely the Great Rift Valley through which the Jordan River flows. And such a contention fits perfectly in the analogy of Luke 16. Why? Because the River Jordan is the definitive boundary line that the Israelites had to cross in order to enter into the Promised Land. To the east of the Jordan lay the area of the Gentiles. This distinction not only pertains to the physical Israelites, but also to the spiritual realm as well, for we read in Hebrews 3-4 that entering into the spiritual rest of God is typified by the Israelites entering into the land of Canaan, an act that can be achieved only by the divine hand of the Almighty—physically and/or spiritually. He must carry one across.

The Jordan is really more than a mere typical river. It’s name means “the defender to go down”, and it has always been associated with death. In a manner of speaking, to cross over the Jordan is tantamount to passing from death into life. This is almost surely why John the Baptist was immersing people in the Jordan River, and why the Savior agreed to be baptized in this body of water. It was, even in His day, already an ancient symbol of death, just as the Scriptures reveal about the significance of baptism. When the Israelites finally were permitted to cross over the Jordan, they entered the Promised Land. Traversing this river was, in effect, a kind of moving from the death of the wilderness into the life of their new home.

What we have in the parable of Luke 16 is a most interesting situation where during his physical life, the Gentile Eliezer/Lazarus is, figuratively speaking to the east (Gentiles) of the rich man (Judah/Israel), the side that has always been associated with being away from the presence of God. This is why the ancient tabernacle and later temple were positioned in such a way that one entered its gates from the east, with the holy place and the Holy of holies to the west. In fact, all of the places of true worship were designed in this manner, whether it is the original Garden of Eden, or Bethel, or Shiloh, or the Jerusalem Temple Mount. To the east is the wilderness. In the beginning, this would correspond to the Land of Nod, the area to which Cain was banished. In later times, it would represent ancient Babylon, the worship of the rising sun, the desolate place where the Azazel or scapegoat was taken during the annual Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) services, the so-called clean place in Old Testament times where those who were ceremonially or physically unclean were commanded to go for a specified time of purification, the location on the Mount of Olives of the Miphkad Altar where the dead bodies of all the sacrificial animals used in the Temple rituals were taken and burned, and the place where the sacrifice of the Red Heifer was conducted. This particular area, east of Jerusalem, east of the Temple Mount, was also the area where the Garden of Gethsemane was located, where the Messiah sweat great drops of blood, and, according to Hebrews 13:10-13, the exact place where our Savior was crucified, He becoming a sin offering for all.

The Jordan River or Great Rift Valley was the definitive line of demarcation, both in terms of the physical geography of the Holy Land, as well as with respect to spiritual symbolism. Typically, this is where Eliezer/Lazarus dwelt during his lifetime, whereas the rich man (Judah, as a type of Israel) lived well on the west side of the Jordan. But in the parable, at the end of their respective lives, the tables are turned, and it is the rich man who is on the other side of the great gulf, while Eliezer/Lazarus is now seen east of Jordan in the true Promised Land of the Kingdom, symbolized in Biblical language as the bosom of Abraham.

Another interesting aspect of this story is the overall context of Luke 16, which is the issue of stewardship—the responsibility of overseeing the goods of another, and dispensing and dealing with them in accordance with the master’s desires. And, it is no mere coincidence that the original Eliezer or Lazarus was the steward of Abraham (Genesis 15:2), thus, a perfect fit!

The meaning of this parable, as you can easily see, has little or nothing to do with going to heaven or burning in hell-fire, but rather it teaches that Gentiles, who, in a manner of speaking, are physically disqualified from inheriting the blessings given to Abraham, and who are portrayed as being on the east side of the Jordan River Valley separating Israel from the rest of the world. They can, through the Messiah and as faithful stewards like Eliezer, cross over into the spiritual realm of Abraham.

Additionally, it also speaks strongly to the Jews, who through the centuries enjoyed the carnal blessings of Abraham, but who then rejected the ultimate promise given to the patriarch, namely, the Messiah Himself? This is why Christ has Abraham saying to the rich man when he plead for Eliezer/Lazarus to go and testify to his brethren:

“If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though ONE ROSE FROM THE DEAD” (Luke 16:31).

Though Eliezer is the individual whom the rich man requests, the one to whom Abraham is ultimately referring here, in the spiritual sense, is none other than Yahshua Himself!

In the final analysis, Paul assures us that, in spite of whatever has happened or what will yet transpire, it is the will of God to eventually show mercy unto all. He warns both Jews and Gentiles in Romans 11 to be careful how they view one another. Here are a few excerpts that should be quite instructive for us:

“What then? Israel has not obtained that which he seeks for; but the election has obtained it, and the rest were BLINDED According as it is written, GOD has given them the spirit of SLUMBER, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear unto this day .... I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come to the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy .... Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more THEIR FULLNESS? ... I speak to you Gentiles ... If some of the branches be broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them ... boast not against the branches .... For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not you. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God .... And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again .... For I would not, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so ALL ISRAEL SHALL BE SAVED: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion a Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob .... For God has concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all. 0 the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:7-8,11-13, 17-18, 21-23, 25-26, 32-33).

Remember that the rich man asked Abraham to send the Gentile Eliezer to bring him some kind of relief. Why would he deign [condescend] to make this request of a lowly Gentile? For two reasons: 1) The point of the parable with respect to the peoples involved portrays Israel in general as the natural branches that have been broken off because of blindness and unbelief, therefore the rich man has little alternative but to lower himself and be willing to make his plea to a Gentile; and 2) As Paul states:

“Even so have these [Israel] also not believed, that through your [Gentiles] mercy they also may obtain mercy” (Romans 11:31).

In other words, ultimately the scales will be balanced, wherein all can become part of the whole of God.

PARABLES OF THE KINGDOM?

Since we are taking a new look at some old stories, the 13th chapter of Matthew presents something of a challenge in this regard. It is certainly unique among the Scriptures, for it is entirely a discourse of Christ containing seven parables, each one of which pertains in some way to the same basic issue, namely, the kingdom of heaven.

Let’s first take a moment and think about what that phrase means. When you hear or read the “Kingdom of Heaven”, what concept comes to mind? For most people, a vision of the eternal future would probably be the immediate picture. After all, Yahshua spoke many words about the kingdom as something that would not immediately transpire, but that would become a full fledged reality at the conclusion of this present age. In that sense, it would be something that He would usher in at the time of His Second Coming. So, to think in those terms is certainly not wrong. There is, however, a question as to whether these parables of the kingdom are actually discussing this future utopia.

When we read the phrase, the Kingdom of Heaven is likened unto, we automatically assume that it is a reference to the coming rule of God upon the earth, and yet this is not always correct, as the parables of Matthew 13 reveal. The kingdom can sometimes mean something else. For instance, we’re all familiar with this statement made to the Pharisees:

“If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the KINGDOM OF GOD is come unto you” (Matthew 12:28).

And when Yahshua sent out the seventy disciples to heal the sick and preach the gospel, He told them:

“And into whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you: and heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The KINGDOM OF GOD IS COME NEAR UNTO YOU” (Luke 10:8-9).

And on another occasion, we read in Luke 17 the following:

“And when He was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, He answered them and said, The kingdom of God comes not with observation [Gk. Outward show]: neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo, there! For, behold, the KINGDOM OF GOD IS WITHIN YOU” (Luke 17:20-21).

In all of these instances, the Messiah is speaking with regard to the kingdom, but is not specifically talking about the concept of a strictly future state. At times He refers to the nearness of the kingdom as being tantamount to His literal presence on the earth at that time.

In addition, the apostle Paul sometimes spoke of the kingdom in a present sense of the term. This is especially true in his letter to the Colossians, where we read:

“For this cause we also ... desire that you be filled with knowledge of His will ... giving thanks unto the Father .... Who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has TRANSLATED US into the KINGDOM of His dear Son, in whom we have redemption through His blood” (Colossians 1:9,12-14).

With these facts in mind, let’s take a new look at the parables of Matthew 13.

PARABLE OF THE SOWER

This is one of the most well know stories ever told by anyone. In fact, most readers of the Scriptures know this parable virtually word-for-word. Just for the record, here is the account:

“Behold, a sower went forth to sow; and when he sowed, some seeds fell on the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them. But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some a hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, some thirty-fold. Who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 13:3-9).

It becomes obvious rather quickly that no one really understood what the Messiah was saying. Unlike the multitude, however, the disciples were inclined to want to know more. What He said pricked their interest, and they pressed in and inquired further. No one should settle for less than the fullness of what God will give. Those who ask, receive; those who seek, find; those who knock find the door open to them.

This concept reminds us of the time when king Joash paid a visit to Elisha, who was gravely ill and dying. While the king is lamenting over the suffering prophet, Elisha suddenly told him to shoot an arrow out the window. The king shot, and the prophet exclaimed:

“The arrow of the Lord’s deliverance ... for you shall smite the Syrians in Aphek, until you have consumed them” (2 Kings 13:17).

Then Elisha told Joash to, “Take the arrows ... and ... smite the earth” (v. 18), whereupon the king unleashed three strikes. Elisha immediately became angry and told him:

“You should have smitten five or six times; then had you smitten Syria till you had consumed it: whereas now you shall smite Syria but thrice” (v. 19).

This story really says a lot. It was the will of God to grant Joash complete victory over the Syrians. In fact, Elisha had already told him this, and thus he expected the king to demonstrate his faith and take full advantage of such divine favor. With regard to faith, always remember that Hebrews 11:6 teaches, not one, but two great realities:

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that comes to God must BELIEVE THAT HE IS, and that He is a REWARDER of them that DILIGENTLY SEEK HIM” (Hebrews 11:6).

If we set our hearts to diligently seek the Almighty, His kingdom, and His righteousness, what do you suppose will happen? How can He deny us? It is impossible! Such an endeavor will ALWAYS result in success! Now, back to Matthew 13.

Since Christ clearly spelled out the precise meaning of this first parable, it is not really necessary to review the actual details. You can simply read them for yourselves. There is, however, a pertinent question that should be asked—in what way does the parable of the sower give us information relative to the coming kingdom of heaven?

Please note that the Messiah’s explanation has altogether to do with events prior to the actual establishment of the kingdom upon the earth. It is a story about the spread of the truth throughout the world over the entire period of time between Yahshua’s first and second advents.

In the ultimate sense, the sower of seed is the Messiah Himself. His words, however, apply also to those who walk in His footsteps as true disciples. Remember that:

“... that the disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be AS HIS MASTER, and the servant as his lord” (Matthew 10:24-25).

This first parable of Matthew 13 explains, therefore, what the sower of seed can reasonably anticipate will happen with respect to the distribution of the Word. In most instances, it will fall on either deaf ears or on hearts that are not yet prepared to hear it, receive it, walk in it, and bear fruit in it. This information flies in the face of those who contend that, through the efforts of spreading the gospel and the hopefully great increase in believers, the world will become better and better. In fact, just the opposite is prophesied in the Scriptures.

The parable of the sower predicts that those who sow the seed will not meet with overwhelming success in this age. Three out of the four types of ground upon which the seed is cast are, in one way or another, unfit environments for spiritual growth. This teaching is in perfect alignment with other passages of Scripture that reveal the steady, but certain, deterioration of the human condition and human society. Most of us are quite familiar with such Biblical passages as the following:

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be ... lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof—from such turn away” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But EVIL MEN and SEDUCERS shall wax WORSE AND WORSE, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12-13).

“These things have I spoken unto you, that you should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time will come that whosoever shall kill you will think that he does God service” (John 16:1-2).

The quotations could go on—all clearly predicting that the period of time between the Messiah’s two appearances will become increasingly evil, deceptive, dark, and dangerous. The world will not become a better place in which to live, and indeed only the blindest fool would deny that these very words have, to a great extent, already come to pass.

In addition to the obvious deficit of good fertile soil capable of producing fruit, the Messiah makes an interesting statement even of the good ground, saying that the seed “brought forth fruit, some a hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, some thirty-fold” (Matthew 13:8). What if this decrease in the harvest is to be viewed from a chronological perspective? Then the hundred-fold might apply to the early gospel preaching efforts, with the sixty-fold and thirty-fold increases to later time periods. There are, of course, other ways of looking at verse 8.

The different soil classifications can be reduced to the following simplistic categories, each one indicating a condition of heart:

1. The Wayside—Hard-hearted

2. The Stony Ground—Shallow-hearted

3. The Thorny Ground—Half-hearted

4. The Good Ground—Whole-hearted

Note that Yahshua made it clear what the great obstacles are to spreading the full truth of the gospel: 1) the hardness of the carnal heart and the resultant Satanic opposition; 2) the superficiality of the flesh; 3) and the attractions and distractions of this present world. These constitute the three great enemies of the truth: 1) Satan the devil; 2) human flesh; and 3) the world and its contrived systems.

Concerning the good soil, the companion account in Luke 8 must be taken into consideration, because it tells us what the basic conditions are for good fruit production:

“But that on the good ground are they, which in an HONEST AND GOOD HEART, having heard the Word, KEEP IT and bring forth fruit with PATIENCE” (Luke 8:15).

These are the requirements for being a fruitful hearer of the Word: 1) Receiving it with and open and understanding mind, 2) holding it fast in obedience, and 3) persevering unto the end.

THE PARABLE OF THE TARES

“The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field—but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? Why then does it have tares? He said unto them, An enemy has done this. The servants said unto him, ‘Will you then that we go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares, you root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather you together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Matthew 13:24-30).

This parable, like the first one, is also descriptive of conditions during the gospel preaching era, and yet is quite different as well. The first pictures the good work of Yahshua and those faithful disciples who have chosen to follow in His footsteps through the centuries of time. The second, however, portrays primarily the work of the enemy. Since two is the first number that can be divided, it often signifies division or evil.

This parable also confirms that conditions during the Church Age will not tend to improve, but get worse and worse. In spite of whatever sincere efforts are made to spread the truth, the adversary will successfully sow his own seed in the very same garden, as will the Messiah and His laborers. Such deviousness is to be anticipated by those who speak the Word. God will give their work increase, but He will also permit Satan to sow liberally throughout the world. This puts a premium upon every true believer to discern good fruit from bad. Some have referred to this as becoming fruit inspectors, reminding us of Yahshua’s statement in Matthew 7, where He says:

“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. You shall know them by their fruits ... Every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire .... NOT EVERYONE who says unto Me, Lord, Lord, SHALL ENTER into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of My Father who is in heaven. MANY will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not PROPHESIED in Your name, and in Your name CAST OUT DEMONS, and in Your name done MANY wonderful WORKS? And I will profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, you that work INIQUITY” [Gk. Anomia: lawlessness, without Torah] (Matthew 7:15-23).

This is a profound passage of Scripture, one that many would much prefer to gloss over or ignore. It is among the hardest sayings ever uttered, and it ties in perfectly with this parable. We tend to think of tares merely as weeds, those pesky little sprouts that are the bane of most gardeners. The thing is, however, that weeds are easy to detect, and should be pulled up during the growing season. Tares are a different matter entirely.

The word “tare” comes from the Greek term “zizanion”, and its meaning is not really the equivalent of a typical weed. Zizanion is a kind of darnel that grows especially in grain fields, and resembles wheat in appearance. The seeds are poisonous to human beings and all herbivorous animals, causing nausea, drowsiness, convulsions, and even death. The custom in the Middle East has always been, as the parable states, to leave them until the harvest, at which time they are removed and destroyed.

Tares are, therefore, not just mere pests, but rather false grain, as they were often called in the first century, virtually identical in appearance to the wheat, and also highly toxic. Since tares are to be left in the field, it is incumbent upon the gardener and his helpers to carefully discern between the good grain and the false.

Note that the tares are sown by the enemy “while men slept” indicating one of two conditions—either that the sowing takes place under cover of darkness, when human beings would normally be asleep; or that due to the spiritually sleepy state of believers, the adversary is able to sow his seed without being readily observed. Indeed, a strong case can be made for both of these situations being correct.

For instance, the Scriptures plainly tell us that the devices of Satan are deception and subtlety, and that he and his own are lovers of darkness rather than light. On the other hand, it wasn’t long after the initial preaching of the gospel that spiritual sleep began to come upon the early converts, thus allowing false teachers to enter in and produce many tares. We are warned about this condition early on in the “New Testament”. The apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that in his very day “the mystery of INIQUITY [Gk. Anomia: lawlessness, without Torah] does already work” (2 Thessalonians 2.7); and John declares: “You have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists”. (I John 2:18).

These two areas of Scripture, by the way, are very important, in that they, among others, link together the concepts of the Antichrist, the Man of Sin, and the Mystery of iniquity. The Greek word translated iniquity in the phrase quoted earlier in 11 Thessalonians 2 is anomia. This is the very same term used by the Messiah in Matthew 7:23, also quoted earlier, where He says to the tares: “Depart from Me, you that work IMQUITY.” The meaning of this word is very significant, and every believer ought to be acutely aware of it. It is defined as violation of the law, and is derived from “anomos” [off site], which means not subject to the law, lawless, without the law. Take special note that one of the chief characteristics of tares is lawlessness! They not only are disobedient to the law—they are opponents of the law!

Even greater stress is put on this word by the New Testament when we consider the fact that the so-called mystery of iniquity, mentioned by Paul as coming into full force at the time of the end and as being directly connected to the Man of Sin or the Antichrist, really ought to be translated and understood as mystery of lawlessness. In straightforward terms, it means without the Torah!

Ever since Yahshua and the early disciples first preached the gospel, attempts have been made to weaken the position of the law with respect to the believer. During the mid-first century, evil endeavor had already begun, and Paul, John, Peter, and Jude all make reference to it in their writings. Jude expresses this very powerfully when he says:

“Beloved ... it was necessary for me to write and exhort you to earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares ... ungodly men, turning the GRACE of our God INTO LASCIVIOUSNESS and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ .... Woe unto them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah. These are spots in your FEASTS ... to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 3-4, 11-13).

Notice that this condition came upon the early believers gradually—virtually undetected. Jude uses the phrase “crept in unawares” to indicate the modus operandi of those whose objective is to take the grace of God and change it into lawlessness, or perhaps better put, to use the beautiful concept of God’s grace as an excuse for disobedience. Remember that it always has been the nature of man to despise, rebel against, disobey, and reject, the Torah of God. The Scriptures are crystal clear on this point, the apostle Paul perhaps stating it best when he says:

“The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7).

Why do you suppose Paul brought in the issue of the law when he described the natural, fleshly mind of man? It is precisely because Paul, a strict Jew and Pharisee, was a rabbinic scholar, a doctor of the law. He understood its rightful place in the life of a believer, and his writings, though often misunderstood and maligned, reflect the wisdom he possessed with respect to both the law and the grace of God.

Take careful heed to remember that the end-time Antichrist will be the ultimate Man of Lawlessness. He will be the consummate Rejecter of Torah! The latter-day system that the Bible describes as deceiving the entire world is purely and simply the mystery of iniquity or anomia (without Torah)!

Within the body of believers, there are tares who become leaders, administrators, preachers, teachers, scholars, and theologians, and there are many more who simply become followers of their approach to God and to His law and way of life. Remember that appearances can be and often are deceptive. This is particularly true in the case of tares. One of the main reasons the tares are not customarily removed during the growing season is that they cannot be safely extracted until they become ripe. It is only then that the farmer can accurately determine the false grain that has developed in the ear. Until harvest time, the tares may well present an attractive picture, imitation blades, green and flourishing side-by-side with the true wheat. While thorns and thistles indeed present problems, it is the poisonous imitation wheat that is most lethal!

Spurious Christianity spawns spurious Christians, and comprises so much of the deceptiveness of the encroaching mystery of iniquity. Spurious Christianity also produces a spurious Christ—another Messiah. He will have the power to perform certain miracles and to utterly delude the masses. He is a beguiler, a defrauder, a swindler, a seducer, a con artist and a flim-flam man extraordinaire!

It is also instructive that tares will take root and grow in soil that the true grain finds to be unfit. Satan has little difficulty in planting a field, no matter where he or his servants sow seed. He does not face the opposition and difficulty true believers with the true message encounter. There is no ground too hard for them to penetrate—no thorns to choke them, no fowls of the air to catch them away.

Notice once again that they are not removed at once. This fact speaks strongly against the notion that the world can be reformed by the efforts of men, that if only we can rid ourselves of the tares, then things would be better! This is not God’s way of thinking. The endless attempts to improve the state of man’s condition upon the earth never really work. In reality, they either are or become deceptive, fronts for the plans and programs envisioned by the evil leaders of this world. In today’s society, any device can be invented and any legislative proposal can be put forth. Any law can be passed, and all of these things created with some kind of positive and helpful purpose attached to them, but underneath the good exterior lurks the wicked purpose for which these entities will ultimately be used.

We read, first in Matthew the following statement by the Messiah:

“Let both [wheat and tares] grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather you together first the tares, and bind them into bundles to burn them” (Matthew 13:30).

And then in the explanation of the parable, He says:

“The Son of man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which DO INIQUITY” [Greek: Anomia: lawlessness, without and/or against Torah] (Matthew 13:41).

Since the time of harvest is designated as the end of the world or present age, one has to seriously wonder just how this process of gathering the tares into bundles will be accomplished. As we draw nearer to that key period of time, what do we observe transpiring on the world scene? Has that gathering indeed already begun? Is it possible that this gathering and binding into bundles is actually one of the most prominent signs of the times? The answer may well be affirmative. Here’s what I mean.

As we go about our daily routines, something is happening, something very, very significant. Slowly, but surely, many things and many people are being gathered together. The individual is fast becoming a non-entity. State and even national boundaries and sovereignty are dissolving. Today, the focus is on amalgamation. We see this particularly in the world of commerce, as conglomerates have taken over virtually every aspect of what once was the heart and soul of free enterprise—the small business and the small businessman. Trusts, combines, cartels, syndicates, unions, corporate giants—are these not bundles into which unsuspecting persons are being systematically herded today? Socialism, which in one form or another has permeated all cultures of the world, overtly seeks to destroy the importance of the individual. The State or the Establishment is nothing less than the gathering of heretofore independent citizens into bundles!

With respect to religion, consider the ecclesiastical gathering that is taking place around the globe. Today, the focus is on interdenominational efforts, inter-faith endeavors, ecumenical movements, the merging of formerly opposing religious perspectives, the breaking down of all existing barriers among the churches [off site] and among the many established faiths of the earth. What will be the resultant one-world religion if not a gathering into bundles?

[It may be that the globalists will have to step aside when the Beast and the False Prophet come on the scene. There will not be a truly unified “one world government” (a great idea under Elohim’s (God’s) rule) until Elohim establishes it! Tho the Beast will be swaying the entire world, there will still be a King of the North, a King of the South, a 200,000,000 man army from the Far East and the Israelite Nations all striving for survival. Even the 10 kings directly under the Beast will be like “iron mixed with clay”—minimal adhesion—Lon]

On the geopolitical scene, what is the byword of the modern era? Was it not former U. S. president and extreme globalist George H. W. Bush who popularized the phrase a new world order, and whose successors in that office have continued the push the globalist agenda to ever greater realization? Think about these words. A world order—a global community—It takes a village—the United Nations. These terms are a common part of the 21st century vocabulary, and they all speak to one and only one great overall objective—the gathering together of hapless humanity into bundles fit for the fire! There will be a small bundle of potent manipulators. There will be a somewhat larger bundle of financial agents. There will be a bigger bundle of lower-level administrators. There will be a highly trained bundle of enforcers, there will be a huge bundle of slave workers, and there will be a staggeringly great bundle of useless eaters, the latter group of which is slated for destruction by the ruling power elite! I submit to you that it is much, much later than most people ever could possibly even imagine! The apostle Paul said as much in Romans:

“And that, knowing the time, [the current age, the trend of things, the signs all around us] that now it is HIGH TIME to AWAKE out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light”. (Romans 13:11-12)

This article was formerly found at http://www.cornerstonepublication.com/

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Minor update January 10, 2012