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The Covenantal Kingdom

by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith

Chapter One:

The Biblical and Theological Issues

Biblical Answer: The Victory of the Gospel (Part Two)

Matthew 13

The kingdom parables of Matthew 13 also point unmistakably to the gradual growth and progress of the Gospel until the final coming of the Lord. [12] A brief look at these parables will demonstrate that, according to the teaching of Jesus, the characteristic of the present era is gradual and imperfect growth of the kingdom until the end of history. The source of this growth is identified in the first parable: "the seed is the Word of God" (Lk. 8:11). The overall perspective is simple: God's Word, the Gospel, brings about the growth of God's kingdom until the end of history, when Jesus returns.

In the first parable Jesus describes four soils into which are planted the seed of the Word of God. Only one of those soils is good; the other three do not bear fruit. The point of this parable, however, is not that twenty-five percent of all those who hear the Gospel will be saved. What Jesus teaches here is that, while there are both those who show no interest from the start (the seed sown by the wayside) and those who have only a temporary and false faith (the seed sown on stony ground and the seed sown among thorns), there will also certainly be those who respond to the Gospel message. These people will bear fruit. [13] This is the distinguishing characteristic of the true Christian (cf. John 15:1-16). Ask yourself this question: If true Christians bear fruit -- including the blessing of seeing men and women converted -- and non-Christians and false Christians do not, who will be numerically greater in the long run?

The next parable, the wheat and the tares, appears to be a logical development of the first parable. In the parable of the soils only one of four soils represents true Christians. Two soils represent false Christians, those who "believe for a while" (Lk. 8:13). We are left, then, with the question: What should the Church do about false Christians who temporarily look like true believers? The answer, given by the second parable, is to leave them alone until the end of the age when the Lord Himself will judge (Mt. 13:30). [14}

This parable indicates that there will be no global, miraculous, divine judgment -- as in the days of Noah, for example -- until the end of history. There is no great discontinuity, like the rapture, or the return of Christ, until the very end. The kingdom is not heaven; it is not a perfect place (Mt. 13:47-50). But this imperfect kingdom will be perfected in the end. This is an important instruction for those who live on earth during the kingdom age, for it is easy to be overcome by utopian desires. Our Lord, however, forbids us from hastening, as it were, the last judgment. Vengeance belongs to God. He will have His vengeance at the end . . . for the kingdom of heaven consummates in final judgment (Mt. 13:49-50).

The exhortation to wait for Christ's final judgment seems to raise another problem. If Christians ignore the false brethren planted among them by Satan, it would threaten to undermine the Church's work for God's kingdom. What can the Church accomplish with such a mixed multitude? Will the preaching of the Gospel result in nothing more than an ambiguous mixture of tares and wheat? This problem is answered by two parables, the parable of the mustard seed (Mt. 13:31-32) and the parable of the leaven (Mt. 13:33). Both guarantee:

1. that the kingdom of God will grow into a great tree in which the birds, the kingdoms of the world, will make their nest (cf. Eze. 17:22-24; 31:2-9; Dn. 4:10-12);

2. that the kingdom of God, like leaven in bread, will eventually leaven the whole earth. [15]

In other words, the Word of God sown by the Son of Man (Mt. 13:37), though it does not convert every individual man and woman, will gradually spread through all the earth and bring all nations to rest in Christ. The kingdom of God comes through the preaching of the Gospel. Christ, to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given, is with us. It is He who builds His Church and the gates of hell will not be able to withstand His assault. [16]

Together these parables -- which leading dispensationalists admit refer to the present age [17] -- teach the gradual growth of the kingdom of God. This growth is achieved by the difficult but in the end always fruitful labor of preaching the Gospel. The kingdom of heaven ends in the final judgment at the second coming of Christ, when the wicked are cast into hell and the righteous enter eternal bliss.

Daniel 2 and 7

Jesus' teaching in the kingdom parables of Matthew 13 corresponds to the outline of history given in the visions of Daniel the prophet (Dn. 2:31-45; 7:1-28). Daniel concentrates on two aspects of God's kingdom: 1) the gradual growth of the kingdom and 2) its starting point -- Christ's ascension to God (Dan 7:13). If the kingdom begins at the resurrection and ascension of Christ and grows gradually through history, as Daniel shows, then the means of growth can only be the seed of God's Word. Jesus Himself points back to Daniel when He tells us that the one who sows the good seed is Daniel's "Son of Man" (Mt. 13:37).

Daniel first understood the course of history when he interpreted the dream of the king of Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar saw a vision of a great image with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, and legs partly of iron and partly of clay (Dn. 2:32-33). This great image was destroyed by a stone, cut without hands, which subsequently grew into a great mountain that filled the earth. Daniel explained the meaning of the dream to Nebuchadnezzar: Four powerful kingdoms -- the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman -- would dominate the history of the world until the God of heaven Himself sets up a new kingdom that will never be destroyed (Dan 2:36-45).

It is explicitly stated that the kingdom of God would be set up in the days of the Roman Empire (Dan 2:44). Dispensational premillennialists must introduce a break of at least two thousand years somewhere in the legs of the vision. [18] The dispensational "gap-theory" interpretation, however, is pure speculation -- an imposition upon the text that is contrary to its plain, normal, literal meaning.

When, at a later time, Daniel himself sees essentially the same vision, the four empires are represented by four beasts rather than a grand human image (Dn. 7:3ff.), indicating the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian perspective on these kingdoms. In Daniel's vision the kingdoms of man end, as in Nebuchadnezzar's vision in chapter 2, when God sets up His kingdom (Dn. 7:9-14). Again the timing is clear -- Christ receives the kingdom at His ascension to God: "[B]ehold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed" (Dn. 7:13). That Christ became King and Lord at His resurrection and ascension is the clear and repeated teaching of the New Testament as well (Mk. 16:19; Lk. 22:69; Acts 2:25-36; 7:55-56; 13:33; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20-22; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22). [19]


This is only a brief summary of the testimony of a few important Scriptures. Even so, it is evident that where the Bible gives an outline of the progress of history, it points to three important truths. One, the kingdom of God grows gradually (Mt. 13; Rom. 11; Dn. 2, 7). Two, the kingdom of God grows through the preaching of the Gospel -- the seed of the Word that will convert Israel and the whole world according to the promise of the resurrected Christ (Mt. 28:18-20; Rom. 11; Mt. 13). Three, the kingdom begins at the resurrection and ascension of Christ (Dn 2, 7; Mt. 28:18-20 and many other New Testament passages). These three Scriptural truths are the Biblical basis for the postmillennial hope. Neither premillennialism nor amillennialism fits the Scriptural teaching of the kingdom.


[12]. Cf. Gary North, Unconditional Surrender, pp. 309ff; Dominion and Common Grace (Tyler Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987), pp. 65-68; Moses and Pharaoh: Dominion Religion versus Power Religion (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), pp. 158-172; David Chilton, Paradise Restored, pp. 73-75; and John Jefferson Davis, Christ's Victorious Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), pp 49-52. For an extended discussion of the interpretation of these parables, though from an amillennial perspective, also see: Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1962).

[13]. Note also that Christ indicates that this parable is the key to the others (Mar. 4:13).

[14]. This is not to imply that the church does not or should not discipline its members. It does imply that church discipline, even in "believers' baptism" churches, can never be so perfect that tares do not infiltrate.

[15]. Dispensationalists often insist that the leaven here must be a symbol of evil, since it is used as a symbol of evil in other passages (cf. Mt. 16:6, 12; 1 Cor. 5:6-9; Gal 5:9). But Jesus clearly says "the kingdom of heaven is like leaven" (Mt. 13:33), and the entire passage is dealing with the growth of God's kingdom. The relevant hermeneutical rule here is: "When all else fails, read the context." For an extended discussion of leaven in Biblical symbolism, see Gary North, Moses and Pharaoh, pp. 158-76.

[16]. For the correct interpretation of Mt. 16:18 and its relation to the book of Revelation see: David Chilton, Days of Vengeance (Fort Worth: Dominion Press, 1987), pp. 313-14.

[17]. See John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), p. 288, etc.; Herman A. Hoyt, The End Times (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), p. 88, 89, etc.; Charles L. Feinberg, Millennialism (Chicago: Moody Press, [1936] 1980), p. 149, etc.

[18]. John F. Walvoord sees the prophecy about the image being fulfilled in the past, except the prophecy concerning stone falling on the foot of the image, which he regards as future. "In view of the very accurate portrayal of preceding history by the image, it is a reasonable and natural conclusion that the feet stage of the image including destruction by the stone is still future and unfulfilled." Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971). This gap-theory interpretation, requiring the expositor to insert an interval of at least two thousand years between the legs and the feet, in addition to making the image rather unstable, is a highly unnatural reading of the text since there are no indications of such a gap in the context, nor of any gaps between the other empires prophesied. It should be pointed out that not all dispensationalists favor the "gap-theory" interpretation. See: Robert D. Culver, Daniel and the Latter Days (Chicago: Moody Press, revised edition, 1977), pp. 118, 124ff.

[19]. It is also interesting to note that Daniel says nothing in this passage of Christ returning to the earth to exercise dominion. On the contrary, the repeated emphasis is that the saints will rule (Dn. 7:18, 22, 27). But the rule of the saints is the rule of Christ in and through them (cf. Dn. 7:27).

Walvoord does not seem to notice that Christ is here coming on the clouds to God and not to the earth, Ibid., pp. 166-70. Wood, too, appears to be unaware of the possibility that this refers to the ascension of Christ. See Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), pp. 192-94. What is true of the Dispensational commentaries is also true of their standard works on eschatology. It has not occurred to them that Daniel sees Jesus ascending to God. See J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972, ninth printing), pp. 102, 318, 443, 479, 491, 497; Herman A. Hoyt, The End Times (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), pp. 56, 59, 183, 184; and John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids, 1959), p. 267.

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